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Malcolm Middleton - Dingwalls, London, 20/2/2007

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 12 / 2 / 2007

Malcolm Middleton - Dingwalls, London, 20/2/2007


Canadian electronic duo the Junior Boys have recently hit the big-time in Britain. Dominic Simpson enjoys their thoughtfully melancholic, but magnificent brand of synth pop at a headlining show at Dingwalls in London

The queue outside Dingwalls, an unassuming venue located near Camden Lock, stretches round to near the waterfront. Canada’s the Junior Boys, from Hamilton in Ontario (near the border with the US), have hit the big-time – relatively speaking, of course. Purveyors of a thoughtful style of electronic pop, combined with bedsit lyrics, the band have seen comparisons with Hot Chip, who DJ tonight (floating a bizarre mix of funk, Spacemen 3, and raga over the crowd), heading their way, as well as the ghost of 80’s synth-pop, New Order, and indie-dance – not just of the Happy Mondays kind, but equally of the shy, introverted world of the Field Mice. Then there’s the more accessible likes of the Pet Shop Boys, of course, who share the band’s sense of ennui; this is a band who document the lows rather than the highs, steering clear of any vapid clubbing anthems. Harking back to Kraftwerk, and mining a league of disco-influenced electro pop all the way to LCD Soundsystem, the band have a potential to be one class act. The multiple-tiered nature of Dingwalls leads to a strange, discordant feel as people wander to near the front of the stage. The first band on turn out to be a revelation: a huge marriage of No-Wave style discordant beats, motorik grooves, space age Korg keyboards, and droning guitar, similar to that which Stereolab mined in the early to mid 90’s before they got a bit too space age in their space-age pop. The last song is a shimmering long jam with looped vocals, which leaves the audience enraptured. I never catch the band’s name, and sadly one of the night’s highlights happens to be so early on, with the band exiting as the venue still fills up; nonetheless, they leave the stage amidst calls for more. the audience is enraptured in applause. The two other support acts that follow never quite live up to such an opening. A diminutive Scandinavian solo singer plays a short set backed by a drum machine, with some deft guitar work and enough bite in the songs to bring to mind the Postal Service if they had a female singer. Still, she has a way with pop tunes that leaves many nodding heads in the audience, while in comparison, Bonde Do Role, newly signed to Domino Records, bound onstage to a sample of AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’ and spend the next half hour serenading the audience with some rather embarrassing fratboy humour. Two Brazilians – one male, one female – with nothing but microphones and rather predictable backing tracks, they rap in Portuguese over a tiresome 80’s ‘mix’: ‘Eye of the Tiger’, ‘The A-Team’, ‘Knightrider’ (at least, that’s what it sounded like), ‘The Final Countdown’: all are fodder for their humorous ranting which, rather inevitably, is lost on the majority of the audience who can’t speak Portuguese. Not that this is their fault, of course, but some originality with the accompanying music over the PA wouldn’t have gone amiss. With occasional nods in English to the crowd (“we lost our DJ in Guatemala!”), the set ends up somewhat inevitably with a sample of the Brazilian soca carnival, while the female member of the band locks a bandage around her head in a rather ridiculous impression of – what, exactly? A terrorist? A member of a military junta? While their set is less than enthusiastically received by members of the audience, Junior Boys attempt to set up their equipment, with keyboardist/programmer Matthew Didemus in particular signalling frantically to the sound men around him. It’s worth the wait once the first bars of their set finally make their appearance, with singer Jeremy Greenspan apologizing for the technical problems. Two songs in, however, and their set is cut short by yet more technical problems, with an exasperating Greenspan admitting the crowd, “What do we do now? I don’t know…” to which cries of “tell us a joke!” emanate from the audience. Thankfully we don’t have to endure an accapella set by the band, and, after disappearing for five minutes, they reappear up and running once and for all, Greenspan quipping that “the last time in London their was technical problems too, so to be honest I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t any this time around”. It turns out to be worth the wait: from here on in, the set is magnificent, from the title track of their recent album 'So This is Goodbye' to 'Like A Child', the latter introduced by the languid Didemus’ bubbling opening sequence of oscillating notes, and the wistful 'Birthday' from their first album 'Last Exit'. With Greenspan’s vocals taking centre-stage, the only question mark hangs over the configuration of beats with the live drummer on 'Count Souvenirs', with the organic and synthesised elements existing in a weird, slightly out-of-sync orbit with each other. But this is a small gripe, particularly in the songs’ beautiful lyrics, and Greenspan’s mantra of “please don’t touch” – an ironic comment on synth-pop’s obsession with appearance and romanticism? Whatever, the middle-eight’s lonely imagery of “empty stalls and shopping malls…hotel lobbies like painful hobbies” is beautiful stuff. 'It’s In The Morning' that inevitably bringing the biggest cheer from the crowd, Greenspan’s warning of “too young” reverberating around the venue. It’s here that you can here just how much the band owes a debt to both the Smiths and New Order equally, not just in the beautiful marriage of chiming guitars and electronic pop, but in the melancholic, reflective lyrics too. Maybe if they put their technical problems finally behind them, they could achieve the greatness of both.

Picture Gallery:-
Malcolm Middleton - Dingwalls, London, 20/2/2007

Malcolm Middleton - Dingwalls, London, 20/2/2007

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