Friday, March 21, 2014

Survival instinct

MAXIMO PARK / TELEMAN, 18TH MARCH 2014, OXFORD ACADEMY

I've come across three-quarters of Teleman before, performing with Pete And The Pirates at Green Man in 2007, when "the most enthusiastic spectator" was "a toddler playing air guitar with a stick". Brothers Thomas and Jonny Sanders and Peter Cattermoul all decided to walk the plank before history rightly consigned the band to landfill, and have returned with a more nuanced, synth-enhanced sound that hints at Grizzly Bear without coming close to living up to that promise. Yet.

As local listings mag Nightshift branded them in their gig preview, Maximo Park are also "survivors" – though perhaps "walking wounded" would be even more apt, given that drummer Tom English has had a fever and singer Paul Smith recently underwent emergency eye surgery. That, he explains, is why he has a pair of sunglasses glued to his face throughout – not through any clich├ęd attempt at rock star cool.

The Newcastle-based quintet first set out their stall in 2005 with debut album A Certain Trigger – a collection of amphetamine-spiked, taut, wired (Wire-d?) songs which drew upon post-punk, new wave and Smith's romantic entanglements and which revelled in their regionalism. If there was a whiff of pretension about Smith's literary leanings, they were nevertheless instantly preferable to knuckledragging contemporaries like Kasabian and The Enemy.

Since then, a few things have changed. Once feted as the first band to be signed up by pioneering leftfield electronic/dance label Warp, for instance, Maximo Park are now at home on major label offshoot V2 and on Radio 2 playlists. Bassist Archis Tiku no longer tours with the band, replaced on the road by Paul Rafferty of Hot Club de Paris ("Our tour bus stinks, so I don’t blame him", laughs Smith). Their fans remain the same, though, growing older with the band – a brief survey of the room reveals they've certainly lost their youth appeal.

New album Too Much Information, their fifth, finds them straying tentatively into new territory and flirting coquettishly with electronics – perhaps under the influence of Field Music's David and Peter Brewis, in whose studio some of it was recorded. 'Leave This Island' chases the coat-tails of the vogue for 80s synth-pop and is typical in that it's muted and rather within itself, suiting neither the usually extrovert Smith nor the live environment particularly well.

If they're "really proud" of Too Much Information, as Smith feels duty-bound to insist repeatedly, then it seems the same can't be said of its predecessors, 2009's Quicken The Heart and 2012's The National Health, judging by how well represented they are in the lengthy setlist. Instead, perennial favourites from A Certain Trigger and second album Our Earthly Pleasures dominate, with 'Graffiti', 'Our Velocity', 'Books In Boxes' and 'Apply Some Pressure' all exemplifying their knack with a smart, spiky indie disco floor-filler.

At the heart of it all is the consummate showman Smith, a lightning conductor for the audience's attention. He might no longer scissor-kick his way through sets with his tie, blazer and side-parting, like Alan Partridge possessed by the spirit of John Lydon, but you still suspect that the eye surgeon who advised him not to do anything involving physical exertion would be tearing his hair out.

'Going Missing' may conclude the encore, but on this evidence it's good to know that Maximo Park aren't going to desert us anytime soon.

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