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Long Blondes - Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, 28/2/2007

  by Paul Raven

published: 7 / 3 / 2007

Long Blondes - Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, 28/2/2007


The Long Blondes have been attracting good reviews and strong audiences for their 80's inspired new wave pop. On the last night of their recent British tour, Paul Raven finds them, however, lacking in both energy and passion

A number of notices on the way in to the venue warn my friend and I that crowdsurfing has been forbidden this evening, by request of the Long Blondes themselves, and that anyone disobeying will be asked to leave. They must be expecting a lively crowd, I think to myself. Everything is quite restrained to start with, however, and, after a support act who sound like a college band covering early Blur B-sides on Temazepam, that's hardly surprising. Things start looking a bit more lively as the lights drop and a rumbling kick-drum intro starts up, the crowd clapping along enthusiastically. The intro then stops, as if it had been a taped over-dub, and the band greet the punters and start their first song in a completely different tempo and feel. The are wearing a bizarre and over-the-top smear of styles ram-raided from the Dukes of Hazzard Re-enactment Society, beamed to Earth from the spaceship '1980s'. In keeping with this magazine-cover imagery, the music is a pastiche of US West Coast New Wave pop-punk – think Blondie with better production but thinner songs. There's a big selection of tonal textures within the scope of that palette - including shimmery guitar effects and vaguely cheesy keys deep in the mix, all topped off with the oh-so-kooky vocals – but despite the wide range of colours at their disposal, they only seem to know how to paint one or two pictures with them. To her credit, lead singer Kate Jackson is a lively little pixie, grooving about the place, shaking her hot-panted hips and working the crowd between songs. The rest of the band look ... well, bored, to be honest. It's the last night of their tour, so perhaps they're just tired; but it's their first tour as a headline act, and I'm accustomed to seeing a little more starry-eyed enthusiasm from a band at that stage in their career. To be fair, there's not much energy flowing in the other direction for them to feed off of. The crowd are cheering and clapping between songs, but in a very reserved manner; perhaps they've been scared into passivity by the crowdsurfing ban. Or perhaps this is a reflection of the wide spread of ages in the audience – there seem to be a lot of mums and dads in the building, not all of whom appear to be accompanying some wide-eyed teenager. As the set progresses, this starts to make more sense. Although the sound that the Long Blondes make is very 'now', it's also very 'then', with the sort of alt-pop appeal that will have persons of a certain age recalling the music of their youth. There's no denying that the band know how to write songs with sharp hooks and catchy choruses, nor that Jackson knows how to deliver the goods. But the sound, like the fashion, is a risky gambit. It's as if, beyond knowing how to make a song sound right, they're rather short of original ideas. The A-level poetry class lyrics are a point in case – those choruses are catchy, yes, but they don't hold up to detailed examination any more than the sort of thing the Sugababes crank out. Then again, I don't think they're meant to. Pop music is becoming increasingly self-aware of its own inherent disposability, possibly in a subconscious attempt to avoid accusations of irrelevance - that whole “of course it's shallow, duh, it's just music” attitude - and that doesn't seem to bother the audience here tonight one bit. They clap when asked to, they sing along to the singles they know. But they're not being spontaneous – there's no sense of ownership, of possession. They're not really emotionally invested in the band at all – I can't imagine here anyone bunking school for a week to follow the Long Blondes around the country, or getting an ill-considered tattoo of their logo. The Long Blondes give the impression of being a triumph of style over content. They look just right – indie-girl pop-mag fresh, dressed a little to the left of H&M. They sound just right – you can't move for this 'New 80s Retro' stuff right now. But they just don't live up to their own promises. The male guitarist, Dorian Cox, for example, has the words 'super yob' written in tape on his instrument. But the most yobbish behaviour he exhibits all night is stepping toward the mic stand, doing some backing vocals, and stepping away again. Quick, give that tearaway an ASBO! The singer's street-chick vocals give way to public schoolgirl gushiness between tracks. The product doesn't match the packaging. Likewise, the music has all the trappings of punkish New Wave, but none of the intelligence and fire that drove the original progenitors of the style. There's no release of inner tension, no outpouring of the soul – the songs themselves are too tame, too soap-opera safe for that. One in every four tunes has a little bit of raw spirit, but the rest are like alcopops; brightly coloured and easy to consume, but manufactured quickly and cheaply with one eye glued to the Zeitgeist. My friend came along because he'd quite liked some of the album, but he leaves long before the set ends. “The magic is missing,” he tells me, and I can't help but agree. Every era has bands like this, with a début album that catches a stylistic wave and rides it to front cover photo-sets and headline tours. Much rarer are the ones that manage to create a strong enough second album to keep them afloat when their fashionable moment has passed, and whether The Long Blondes will be one of these remains to be seen. For now, though, they're hitting the indie-teen-pop nail right on the head. I just wish they'd hit it a little harder. The photographs that accompany this article were taken exclusively for Pennyblackmusic by Katie Anderson

Picture Gallery:-
Long Blondes - Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, 28/2/2007

Long Blondes - Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, 28/2/2007

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