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Wolf Gang
R O M A N C E
Luna Belle
Borderline, London
Wednesday February 9 2011

Back in my showbiz days, I used to put on gigs at the Borderline. Then, the decor was all bare timber and scuffed plaster, on a slightly surreal Mexican marketplace theme. This required a certain suspension of disbelief given that the venue is actually a small basement off the Charing Cross Road. But the PA was decent, and the lighting rig - a fearsome array of par cans which would routinely roast every band on stage - was good. I like to think some of my best gigs happened here.

Now, the Borderline is slightly less Mexican, slightly less surreal, and definitely less scuffed. It's had a bit of a posh-up, and fair enough, it probably needed it. What it didn't need was the minimal and feeble LED light units which have now replaced the good old fashioned par can rig. I'm sure the bands are lovely and cool on stage these days. It's just a pity there's barely enough light to see them.

Luna Belle

Still, here come Luna Belle, earnest and po-faced and working really, really hard at being an inoffensve indie band. In this they're partially sccessful, for their very inoffensiveness rubs me up the wrong way. The singer is winsome and diffident: she's wearing a curious sack-like creation which, I assume, must be the latest fashionable gear for modern indie chicks. She seems to gain confidence when she's actually singing - in a technically competent but rather characterless indie-girl warble - but bashfulness returns between the songs. Her band of anoynous indieblokes wear blank expressions and hold their guitars bizarrely high on their chests, as if nervously clutching teddy bears.

It's all a bit so-so and ho-hum, but someone, somewhere, must reckon this is What The Kids Want. This gig is one of the 'Next Big Thing' industry showcase events happening around London at present, which means every band tonight is being plugged, pushed, packed and delivered to us by the major players of the music industry. Luna Belle are signed to Island Records, which is now owned - like half the music biz these days - by the Universal Music Group, and they're managed by the same team that brought us La Roux and the Klaxons. If stardom doesn't happen, it won't be for lack of music biz muscle. Maybe that's why the band seem so timid, so rabbits-caught-in-headlights: the music biz juggernaut is bearing down on them, and they've realised, too late, that there's nowhere to run.

R O M A N C E are made of sterner stuff. They've got a nice juicy recording contract under their belts now, with Fiction Records (also, almost inevitably, part of the Unversal Music Group). But far from seeming apprehensive about the future, R O M A N C E are ready to meet it head on.

They hit the stage with all their rock 'n' roll guns blazing, which is just as well, because the weedy stage lighting certainly isn't. "For those who haven’t seen us before, this'll be quite an experience," announces frontman Jaime Lovatt, and once you've said something like that, there's nothing to do but turn it all up to eleven. So that's exactly what R O M A N C E do. They play it loud and brash and extravagant, a rock band gatecrashing the indie party and shamelessly enjoying the mayhem.  Fresh off a tour support with The Cult, R O M A N C E have brought a whole new array of Orange backline to the gig tonight. They've also brought their customary rockin' attitude, which can only have been honed to a sharper point by their dates with Astbury's mob.

They gleefully cop a load of old-school rock band moves and poses - on guitar, Alexander Glover swings his instrument with the insousciant swagger of the young Keef Richards, while Jaime and bassist Samantha Valentine trade plank-poses as if they're auditioning for Thin Lizzy. "Next time, we'll be headlining," says Jaime, as a parting shot as the set shudders to a close. Well, that's another big promise he's got to deliver on - but would you bet against it?

R O M A N C E

Tonight's actual headliners are Wolf Gang, although perhaps I should say 'headliner', singular, for Wolf Gang is the trading name of one man: Max McElligott. He's the somewhat Bowie-esque (Tonight album era) chap on stage, sharp of suit and easily confident of manner. Wolf Gang is signed to Elektra Records, a label with a long and honourable rock history (The Doors, the Stooges, MC5) although today it's an offshoot of the Warner Music Group and has a current roster (Uffie, Little Boots, Charlotte Gainsbourg) that really could use a little injection of rock juice.

I'm not sure if Wolf Gang will be the artist to do that thing for his music biz masters, mind, for while his songs have a certain swell and sway to them, and Mr Gang certainly knows how to lift it in the chorus, and all that songwriterly stuff, the overall effect is a little characterless. The songs sound decent enough while the band is actually bashing them out, but they drop straight through my brain without touching the sides. Two seconds after the songs finish, and they're gone from my memory. Much like David Bowie's efforts on the Tonight album, as it happens. Maybe someone should lock Wolf Gang in a room with Heroes and Scary Monsters and not let him out until some of those influences have percolated through. It takes more than a sharp suit, you know. Even David Bowie found that out.

 

Wolf Gang: Website | MySpace | Facebook

R O M A N C E: Website | MySpace | Facebook

Luna Belle: Website | MySpace | Facebook

For more photos from this gig, find R O M A N C E by name here.

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