Going to a trendy gig at this time of year gives you a unique opportunity to check out what the freshers are like this year. So how are they? Young. They look like children who've sneaked out of boarding school. And they don't seem to know how to dance. While Friendly Fires were playing, they seemed content to merely sway along out of time for the most part. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The support was a duo called Jape. These 2 guys play guitars and occasional synth over a backing track of drums and synth. If that sounds interesting, for the most part it wasn't. It was pretty pedestrian. It actually sounded a bit like someone was playing the Friendly Fires album too slowly. And the guy can't write lyrics for shit. I swear at one point the guy sang a lyric about "a brick made of mist" and how while it wasn't physically possible, it was still something you could imagine, in your mind... Yeah, well done mate. I can imagine juggling 5 dragons while whipping up a cake with my bare feet in my mind... Doesn't mean jack shit tho, you poncey little tosser. I mean, I'm all for quirky lyrics, don't get me wrong, but there is a big difference between a genuinely imaginative turn of phrase, and some lame 'wacky' non-observation. All the songs sounded the same, all the songs were played at the same pace of a bit slow and all the songs had the same sound of a bit 'baggy'. All apart from one. As the third from last song they played segued into their penultimate song, they put down their guitars and hunched over their synths. Then they suddenly out of nowhere started playing this full on, out and out electro house track, which was TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME!! WHERE THE FUCK DID THAT COME FROM?! ALL IS FORGIVEN!! Then after this 4 or 5 minutes of fleeting genius, they made the stupid mistake of picking up their guitars again. NO!!! YOU BLOODY BASTARDS!! How DARE you go back to peddling that pedestrian indie crap on us when you have shown your true power! Stop trying to pick up chicks with your pussy rock and BRING BACK THE DANCE!! Seriously, if Jape hung up their guitars for good, and pursued the house route, they could be so fucking good. Please Jape, we need another dance act to get passionate about. Orbital split, Underworld are a bit too happy living on the outside of everything and the Chemical Brothers went shit YEARS ago. We NEED another great dance band! Please Jape, please be that band. Pleeeeeease?
In the break between bands, I made the mistake of going to the bar. Yes, the barstaff at this place are just as shit as they always have been. You'ld have thought that what with it being over a year now since Carling redid this place they would have managed to get some people who actually know how to work behind a bar by now, but no. A year on and they still hire brain dead staff. Little dimwits, pottering around like Teletubbies who became disenchanted with the world without ever actually growing up. I mean, I'm pretty certain the old Zodiac was never like this. Maybe I wouldn't be so dismissive of them if a) my JD & Coke hadn't cost £3.50, and b) the escaped post-op lobotomy patient who was working the bar this particular night hadn't served, and I'm not exaggerating this, 6 people who came to the bar after me. It's not like I was in an awkward position or anything, I was directly infront of where she was doing most of her 'work'. She saw me several times. She is clearly just a total imbecile.
Rather novel this, but Friendly Fires might just be the only headline act who I've ever seen actually come on stage to start at the time they're listed as starting. Right on the button of 9.30, they stroll on stage, and treat us to a fucking superb set. Their set basically consisted of the album, in a different order, and their ace cover of the classic Frankie Knuckles track "Your Love", which they played 2nd and made me smile because I thought maybe they didn't play that anymore.
Now, I'm used to seeing Friendly Fires at The Cellar. At an ARF? night. Crammed, cramped and hot & sweaty with people dancing themselves to near exhaustion as FF play their brand of incessant dance rock. This was different. Upstairs at The Zodiac, tall room, air conditioned, stage at least twice the size, playing to an audience who mostly seem to be made up of newly Oxford located freshers, who don't seem very sure of themselves and are trying too hard to impress everyone around them. Which is silly. They should've just let that shit go and fucking danced, coz Friendly Fires were on form. Although having said that, I can't think of a time I've seen them when they haven't been excellent. I was well excited when I found out they had a album coming out. And it didn't disappoint. A short sharp burst of attitude and energy, they got all the critics doing a little bit of dribble. 'Where the hell did these guys come from? They weren't on any of our watchlists!' (apart from NME, who at the beginning of the year held them out as 'Ones to watch', but don't let that put you off.) That's pretty much what you get seeing them live too. The energy they put into their set really comes through. The guitarist almost constantly looks like he's on the verge of totally spazzing out, the singer cannot stand still for one moment, the drummer's too busy playing frantic loops to have anything like a short breather and the bassist/extra percussionist is switching, chopping and changing partly laying the foundations, partly trying to keep up with everything. It's frantic and it's bloody exciting. 'Jump In The Pool' in particular gets the collective pulse racing, and causes a near riot of applause when it finishes. 'Paris' winds everything down with that Field sampling bliss of an outro that seems to bring the set to a natural wound down close, before they announce there's one more. 'Ex Lover', complete with Friendly Fires equivalent of a wig-out at the end. That being an all percussion stage party, but with nothing so cheesy as an audience invasion. All of which brings things to a perfect close, which can only mean one thing. It's time for the tedious 'get the crowd riled up and roaring for an encore'. Sure enough the crowd get a bit rowdy and chanty, wanting more, but then the house lights come up! Music from the stereo plays! There's no encore! YES!
I FUCKING LOVE YOU FRIENDLY FIRES!!!
(and I bet you get loads more groupies than Jape. Y'hear that Jape? Give up the guitars. Embrace the dance side! You know it makes sense.)