Thursday, 28 May 2009

Up Pip Brown, Tommy Sparks Down

19th May 2009
Digital, Brighton
Ladyhawke/Tommy Sparks

Any aspiring musician searching for the knack of how to ‘do’ pop whilst still retaining indie sensibilities and street cred would have done well to be at Ladyhawke’s packed out show at Digital Tuesday night. The evening was a veritable indie-pop 101 of ‘do’s’ and ‘do not’s’.

Lesson one – It doesn’t matter how good the songs are, how tight the band is, however catchy the melodies, it will all be in vain if your frontman is a charisma vacuum as huge as Tommy Sparks. As he strode out onto stage, all hair gel and lycra, announcing “I’m Tommy Sparks, and this is my beautiful band”, I felt a genuine pang of sympathy for the talented musicians who have to share a stage with this giant, unfounded ego. Every intriguing piece of electropop noise was brought crashing down to earth by his Butlins holiday rep schtick, his insistence on leading into each song with a grating “Oi-Oi-Oi” exercise in vocal numbskullery. A cover of Stardust’s 1998 hit “The Music Sounds Better With You”, that could with a bit of personality have been turned into an intriguing track, instead became an exercise in bland karaoke from a preening black hole of a man. Message to ‘the beautiful band’: get out now, you don’t deserve this.

Once Tommy had flounced off, and the stagehands had been in to tether and drag away his inflated sense of self-worth, there was a perplexing wait of almost an hour before the main act finally appeared. During this time it was as though all the energy were sapping out of the crowd, meaning that by the time Ladyhawke took to the stage, she would have to work hard to get the place jumping.

In the flesh, Pip Brown (why use a pseudonym if you have such a cool name?) doesn’t really come across as a pop phenomenon. Dressed down in a denim waistcoat, her blonde fringe obscuring her eyes, her interaction with the crowd was anything but T4 Beach Party. But there was something endearing in her nervous asides that captured a personality refreshingly opposed to her support act’s cruise ship histrionics and forced jollity. Opening the set with a trio of album tracks before dropping her first hit of the night (‘From Dusk Till Dawn’), she encountered a problem all too common amongst debut album success stories – a lack of material for her audience to sing along to. Until she has another album’s worth of songs and a few more hit singles under her belt, it’s going to be nigh on impossible for Ladyhawke to provide the kind of sustained energy needed for big, headline gigs.

It was not until the last four or five songs of her set that she began to roll out the big guns with ‘Paris Is Burning’, and the room really started moving. Finally the pop hooks began to come thick and fast, and by the time the band bounced off the stage, a palpable sense of goodwill left the audience on tenterhooks for the inevitable encore.

Inevitable, of course, because she had not yet played her biggest hit to date, the big, dumb, glorious romp of ‘My Delirium’. Whilst there could be hardly anyone in the room who didn’t know what was coming, Ladyhawke had one more trick up her sleeve, returning to the stage to belt out an impassioned Patti Smith number. For the few minutes of ‘Free Money’ she let go of her inhibitions just as much as her crowd had been willing to the whole evening, and her obvious enjoyment stirred those last reserves of energy among us for the big finish. And yet, when it came, this three-minute slice of indie disco perfection was curiously underwhelming. Brown seems to be tiring of ‘My Delirium’s status as the ‘big hit’ among her repertoire, and it was not infused with the same sense of glee with which she had owned someone else’s song minutes before. Whilst her enthusiasm may have been waning, however, the audience’s excitement still reached its crescendo, and it was impossible not to be swept along by the sugar rush grooves. If anything, by playing down her most famous song in favour of an obscure yet charming cover, Ladyhawke made herself a much more interesting proposition, for this reviewer at least. It is clear that she possesses a way with a grunge-pop melody, and her lack of interest in being seen as a ‘one-hit wonder’ hinted at further promise just waiting to be realised.