Bastille – review

University of Leeds

Long before Bastille could ever have dreamed of a No 1 album, frontman and mastermind Dan Smith was a student at University of Leeds. As he tells those who have come to see him at his alma mater, he got the news about Bad Blood's success as his tour bus approached his old establishment on Sunday. "It was literally the weirdest thing that could ever happen," he tells the crowd, who don't seem stunned by the commercial appeal of a conventionally anthemic singer-pianist-songwriter with electronic/percussive knobs on, making music not unlike a mildly clubby Coldplay.

Bastille only played their first gig two years ago, and their success has come on the back of old-fashioned touring – including support slots with Emeli Sandé and Two Door Cinema Club – and the sort of under-the-radar marketing campaign that involves placing music on TV and in computer games, thus allowing record companies to claim that their bands have made it without "hype".

However, the fiendish strategists who plot such modern pop phenomena couldn't have invented Smith. A wild mutation of Coldplay's Chris Martin and Justin Bieber, his fabulous, gravity-defying hairstyle appears to have been created by placing his hands on a Van de Graaff generator and he prompts screaming every time he ventures near the front rows. "It's such a headfuck to play here," he sighs, the swear word jarring with his parent-friendly, well-spoken persona.

Still, Smith's triumphantly melancholic anthems have clearly struck a chord, and fists pump the air to familiar-sounding tales of the rollercoaster between oblivion and depression. Get Home finds him stumbling home from a club, pondering the meaning of it all: it paints him as quite the bar-room philosopher.

Before Bad Blood came out, Smith had recorded a series of cover versions issued as a mixtape – but in concert, a version of City High's What Would You Do and a ghastly medley of Snap!'s Rhythm Is a Dancer and Corona's The Rhythm of the Night functions more as padding. By contrast, the hit single Pompeii and Things We Lost in the Fire – a tale of losing everything, delivered with disturbing gusto – are big, catchy bangers, although the sameness grows wearying during an hour.

Still, it's hard to begrudge Smith his big moment. He dives into the audience and returns, grinning and still singing, by which time his madcap barnet looks a good two inches taller.

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Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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