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For a band that's been amassing plaudits and critical acclaim since their conception in 2006, it's something of a travesty that Exit Calm still reside in the same underground backwaters seven years on. An unflinchingly dedicated loyal fanbase aside - and tonight's 450+ hardy souls packed into Sheffield's O2 Academy 2 venue proves no exception - they remain something of an unknown quantity as far as the wider population is concerned.
Having signed to London's Club AC30 label as far back as 2009, their eponymous debut long player a year later seemed destined to reap dividends and bring them the success their hard working ethic of relentless touring and numerous day jobs on top to keep heads afloat deserved. However, it wasn't to be, and three years on from that record's release they find themselves back at year zero.
Currently in the middle of their biggest headline tour of the UK in years, tonight feels like an exercise in trial and error at times. Road testing what is essentially a set containing 50% worth of brand new material, some of the aforementioned diehards will no doubt point to the fact at least three songs aired this evening ('Albion', 'Fiction' and current single 'The Rapture') have formed part of their live set for a good eighteen months or so. Whereas previously comparisons with The Verve threatened to haunt them for eternity, now there's a more steadfast, anthemic quality to their make-up.
Of the four songs that survive from Exit Calm's early days, each and every one is built around a lolloping groove. Opener 'You've Got It All Wrong' and former single 'We're On Our Own' bristle with a confident air no doubt amassed through years of touring with the likes of Puressence and The Sunshine Underground. 'Recovery' too sounds immense in this setting compared to its understated placement - filler would perhaps be a little unfair - on the album. Meanwhile, the hit single that should have been 'Hearts And Minds' brings the set to a triumphant ending, its pulsating climax deserving of a much larger arena than the one Exit Calm find themselves in this evening.
It's the new material though that really shines through, demonstrating Exit Calm's obvious progress both as songwriters and performers. Recent single 'The Rapture' might have been getting airplay amidst the half time pies and bovrils at Old Trafford, but here it resembles a tidal wave of buoyant melodrama. Lines like "You're in the dictionary next to what a bitch is" leave little to the imagination, with singer Nicky Smith exerting a formidable presence out front. Musically not a million miles away from October era U2, The Chameleons or former tour buddies Puressence, it's arguably Exit Calm's finest moment to date. Or at least it was until fellow new composition 'Holy War' blows everything else around it away. Driven along by Rob Marshall's signature guitar sound over a rolling crescendo of drum and bass (not that kind), it's arguably their most pulsating six-and-a-half minutes to date and makes us yearn for September when their long-awaited second album is expected to be ready.
We're not making any bold predictions just yet. Last time around a combination of bad luck and mainstream ignorance conspired against them. However, there's an assured, if somewhat understated belief that 2013 may well be Exit Calm's year.
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