We Are Scientists, Soho Revue Bar, London

Soho Revue Bar, London

The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Wednesday February 27 2008

We confused the names of two members of the band We Are Scientists in our review of their gig at the Soho Revue Bar in London. Keith Murray is the lead vocalist and Chris Cain the bass player.

We Are Scientists are not the kind of band you can imagine working in an acoustic setting. Their songs are saturated in the kind of strutting, pose-striking, neon-coloured synth melodies that inevitably make one think of bad 1980s fashion. When singer Keith Murray threatens to play a set of Billy Joel cover versions, part of you wonders if he is actually joking.

As they begin to play their opening number, Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt, it seems that all negative anticipation is going to be realised. There is a strange disjunction between Murray's broad, emphatic vocal and the more muted backing of his own acoustic guitar, Chris Cain's murmuring bass and the soft pedal-steel playing of new Scientist, Max Hart. It is as though Murray still thinks he is competing with those synths. But then something magical happens. This is a song about a relationship ending; as Murray launches into the chorus the music begins to keel and lurch, like a heart in freefall. It brings an unexpected emotional resonance to Murray's basic, boyish lyrics, and makes the song seem richer than it actually is.

For the rest of their 11-song set, We Are Scientists succeed in repeating the trick. Songs from their debut album, With Love and Squalor, are infused with tenderness; they still make you think of the 1980s, but now of the teen-romance movies of John Hughes.

New songs After Hours and Spoken For prove similarly affecting. And it is not just the music that benefits from the intimacy in the room: Cain and Murray revel in the opportunity it provides for dry humour and banter with their audience - not least when one woman telephones a friend during This Scene Is Dead and Murray is able, to much general amusement, to confiscate her mobile. They are so engaging, we might even have forgiven a couple of Billy Joel numbers.


Maddy Costa

The GuardianTramp

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