British Sea Power – review

Metropolitan University, Leeds

Ten years after their debut, The Decline of British Sea Power, the Brighton-based oddballs remain one of the most quixotic, enigmatic presences in British pop, though, for all their indie credentials, they are reliably showy on stage: the set for their latest outing includes Christmas-style fairy lights, trees and a pair of antlers.

Even the show's structure is unconventional. BSP perform two sets, wildly different in style and volume, interspersed by madcap guitar duo Brown Brogues – a mix of the Cramps and the White Stripes. BSP frontman Yan introduces the band's quieter set as "a gentle warm-up. Relax your buttocks." Subdued brass gives the new song Radio Goddard – a tribute to the songwriter Geoff Goddard, author of many of the hits produced by Joe Meek – the air of a colliery band. With a chorus revolving around the quaint phrase "Dear boy", the song also becomes a lovely epitaph to a lost England of tea rooms, Bakelite radios, Terry-Thomas and Ian Carmichael.

The second set adds Abi Fry's soaring violin for BSP's more muscular incarnation as a powerful rock band. Hurtling imagery, motorik Krautrock grooves and Martin Noble's dreamlike guitar shapes propel songs from the new album, Machineries of Joy, which cover everything from the changing seasons to bloodlust. There are shades of the National or Elbow, and while a Guy Garvey-like crowdpleasing frontman would make BSP more conventional, Yan has a more subtle power. Singing with eyes closed, and with care and emotion, he broadens the appeal of the songs without sacrificing their idiosyncracies.

Carrion, from their first album, produces the unlikely spectacle of an audience pumping their fists to a paean to death by sea. However, the band excel themselves during All in It, an epic finale complete with band members staging mock brawls with gigantic costumed bears.

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Contributor

Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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