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- Maximo Park »
The scenic and historic city of Oxford: its university, spires and halls, the setting for tonight’s show. And not some stale student union either, but an entirely more sophisticated and pseudo-intellectual affair. Lavish spreads and hospitality in the Bodleian library, stacked floor to roof with periodicals dating back some hundred years, followed by an exclusive for-fans-(and select few hacks)-only performance. This intimate party has been laid on by some mobile phone entity that blends into all the other ones; I honestly can’t remember which but could probably find out without difficulty, if only I was enough of a company man. As it is I’m more like Homer Simpson in the episode where he joins a Waco-style cult: too distracted to be anything but totally un-brainwashable.
Even if at times they seem to be trying too hard to force their wordiness upon us (we didn’t come here to read), it feels right that Maximo Park should play here. Their art-rock credentials and the literary themes of their latest album, Our Earthly Pleasures, demand it. We arrive to a highly organised scene, one obviously planned and now being executed with a military precision the leaves me feeling distinctly inferior. The courtyard bustles with TV types and ushers, all rushing around with definite purpose. “Hey, isn’t that them? There they are.” My companion – a certified fan – enthuses throughout the build-up, conspiratorially whispering to me while Maximo Park – who are sat a handful of paces away – babble into a television camera. They look happy, excited even, and rightly so. We find ourselves hustled and chaperoned on this balmy evening to a small hall never before used for a live performance of this magnitude. It’s ostentatious in a way that only the old-world can be, and almost church-like; lined with paintings, portraits and oak panelling that lends a real sense of occasion and history. How very British.
There is an unmistakeable sense of anticipation, and the ratio of television cameras to audience members ensures that. So, too, does the rent-a-vibe TV pimp common at these made-for-TV gigs, who commands the gathered audience to shout and scream and generally evoke the atmosphere of The Beatles arriving at JFK airport. He also requests that those gathered on the balcony – here ostensibly to watch a band – move behind the stage so that the TV cameras can get good crowd shots whilst Maximo Park play. Unfortunately for those prepared to obey, this means being corralled into a poor viewing position. I just ignore the barking, head-phoned fool.
It’s all extraneous though once Maximo Park burst onto the stage and blaze into ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’. The opening one-two punch of this and ‘Our Velocity’ – both plucked from their latest album and rattled through here to devastating effect – succeed in winding up the crowd far more than any pre-show cajoling. For anyone unaware of their live savagery, Maximo Park are wired to the point of madness. I half-expect a bunch of white-coats to wrestle Paul Smith and keyboard player Lukas Wooller to the ground and pump them full of tranquillizers, like the scene in Total Recall where Arnold Schwarzenegger prematurely wakes from his spy fantasy thinking his cover has been blown. They work each other up into a frenzy, with scissor kicks, air punches and a general intensity that makes them captivating. This kind of attack can dull some of the sentiment in the songs but what is gained in fire-and-brimstone more than outweighs the loss.
By the time they segue into ‘Graffiti’ - with that bassline seemingly tapped straight from the adrenalin gland - what was a won cause before they even started turns into a celebration. It’s a love-in. But what stands out is that the songs from A Certain Trigger carry more weight and emotional currency than the more recent Our Earthly Pleasures material. They are greeted more resoundingly, they have a bigger kick and sound that bit more urgent. The majority of_ Our Earthly Pleasures is merely competent, with a smattering of songs that lie in the genre top-soil. In contrast, songs such as _‘The Coast Is Always Changing’, ‘Apply Some Pressure’ and set-closer ‘Going Missing’ demand deeper involvement and, moreover, represent the sound of an indie band that needn’t be restricted by such narrow definitions as ‘indie’.
Maximo Park’s early rise was rapid, and they were lauded as bright new things that might actually make it. Rightly so, there were few things as downright gripping as the band’s first album, but then they were outshone on the NME tour last year by the ascendant Arctic Monkeys (despite being justifiable headliners to anyone who actually saw their shows). Since then they appeared to be suffering from a lack of that rock-bottom thinking-man call to arms that propelled them in the first place. There’s built-in obsolescence in any band, a lifespan that varies between acts, and maybe it was just that they peaked early and were now easing off. Increasingly though, Maximo Park are playing like they have something to prove, especially to themselves, and that can only be a good thing.
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