Alberta CrossEdit this event
- Astoria, London »
It’s easy to forget the importance of a front man (or, for the PC-section of you, front person). Thinking about all of your favourite bands, of course you appreciate them as a whole, as a group. But imagine, if you will, your favourite band; imagine the front person and his or her qualities, style and personality. Now imagine those things stripped away. Regardless of the rest of a band, it is close to impossible to deny that the front man is the deciding factor – the difference between a band that is good and a band that is great.
Tonight is something of a lesson, or an eye-opener at least, in the sheer impact a front man can make.
Scraggly Alberta Cross front man, Petter Ericson Stakee, plays his guitar with spindly fingers spidering deviously across the fretboard, his face hidden beneath a mass of straw. His voice conjures white-trash trailer-park Americana with a certain appeal as it cracks and lulls between honeycomb-piercing highs and gruff, rumbling lows. He has that magnetism, a certain subtle sense of danger and unpredictability. He and he alone stands out against a backdrop of otherwise banal guitar lines and frankly irritating drumbeats. Lose the band, lose the electricity and let the simple beauty of his voice do the talking and this could be something special. As it is, awash with mediocrity, Alberta Cross do little other than fill the silence.
Perhaps their saving grace is the second act of tonight’s bill, Voxtrot. In their better moments they sound like Dogs Die In Hot Cars attempting to rock out. At their worst, they are insufferable. Whilst the music itself is competent and at times even interesting, they suffer from the opposite problem to Alberta Cross: a whining, nasal voice and stage presence that invokes images of ‘rock’ moments on the most poorly acted soaps (even Oodles and Noodles had more enigma than this!), watching their vocalist’s awkward squirms and over-exaggerated facial expressions is discomforting.
Whilst Polytechnic are pleasant enough their set passes with little worth remark and they leave the stage to tonight’s headline act, The Shins. Greeted with raptures of applause, the gaping chasm between them and their support acts is prominent within the very earliest of opening throws. It’s easy to forget how fantastic The Shins are but it’s at times like these that any doubts or feelings of indifference are swiftly burnt and replaced with the urge to grin like and idiot and sing along far louder than is polite.
Front man James Mercer’s effortless charm and understated charisma is tied together with that incredible ice cream-and-sunshine vocal section to leave the whole of the Astoria infused with a sugar-rush of adrenaline.
Their set gushes with energy and whilst the newer songs have a sturdy and thoughtful tone, they showcase a different depth for a band that could so easily fall into the limiting tie of summery, Brian Wilson-scented pop. Perfectly balancing the new material with crowd pleasers from breakthrough album Chutes Too Narrow and the lesser-known Oh, Inverted World, the only thing missing is a backdrop of Worthy Farm, swamps of mud and blistering sunshine.
This is proof that front men don’t need to have all the moves and all the lines. It’s a simple innate charisma that some people have, a quality that makes them impossible to take your eyes from, even for one moment. When that is tied to music so undoubtedly perfect, that is when a band becomes incredible.
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