British Sea Power at the Barfly? Surely some mistake. The home of indie grot is the last place you would expect to find a band renowned for playing everywhere but actual music venues – taking the show on to Camden's rainy pavements would have been much more their style. The sightlines would have been better, too: the Barfly was so full that their recently installed first female member, viola/keyboard player Abi Fry, was hidden by rows of tall people, one of them waving a bunch of big red flowers.
She was audible, though, and her contribution did good things for a band who would otherwise consist of four guitarists and a drummer. Wielding her bow with an aggressive hand, she imparted an earthy texture to the quintet of new songs that opened the set. With Fry sawing away and the guitarists seemingly having discovered melody for the first time, these tracks from the new album, Valhalla Dancehall, sound like something Mumford & Sons might produce on an exceptionally peppy day. This will stun those who have followed BSP through four previous albums of defiantly eccentric grandeur, but there it is, and it's not bad at all.
The rest of the set was defined by eccentricity and whimsy, along with occasional moments where they forgot about bearded earnestness and flailed viscerally. Mongk II's bad-acid-trip guitars, with extra claustrophobia supplied by Yan Wilkinson's breathless vocals, were stunning. So, too, was The Grand Skua, four minutes of marching music and chanting that builds to a yelping crescendo. The cleverly angular It Ended on an Oily Stage, their hit from the brief moment several years ago when it looked as if their expansive, literate songs might catch on, is greeted with coos of joy. All that's missing is communication from the band, who gaze into the distance throughout, their thoughts evidently a long way from London NW1.