Sunday, 22 March 2009

Twisted Licks Presents: My Toys Like Me and Ex Lovers @ Macbeth, 21/3/09

The way I see it, breaking artists can choose to play it one of two ways. Early gigs will be inevitably fraught with the strain of trying to establish and distinguish their particular sonic speciality from the mire of mediocrity on offer nightly, so how does one stick out from the crowd enough to gain that essential early support? It’s a choice between either bursting onto the stage in a set so stylised that it could have come ready-made from the Gaga school of theatrics, or affected nonchalance. The later – playing-it-cool – is as much a fabrication as the former, as in the early days, no band really knows what they’re doing or how to handle it. Which is why some of them choose to dress-up and play-up to hide their nerves. And why some of them don’t.

Right, well now that’s sorted, onto two bands that perfectly illustrate this point, both helpfully condensed onto one line-up by the inimitable wondrousness that is Twisted Licks. My Toys Like Me are first up, taking to the stage in dribs and drabs either for chorographical effect, or because the drummer needed a piss. No one’s looking much further than frontwoman Frances anyway, whose angular electro-funk dancing and bouffant blonde afro dominate the small stage. Her nonsensical lyrics are delivered in child-like murmurs over the acid-pulse of trippy electro beats courtesy of Lazlo Legezer. Lazlo’s production is seamless over the superlative soundsystem of The Macbeth, but there aren’t enough pill-popping electro-kids here to appreciate it, and consequently overblown affections like Frances’s whispered ‘taaaaaa’ at the end of songs just sound a bit silly.

Exlovers try the opposite approach, with heavily nostalgic indie-pop balladry that comforts after the achingly contemporary, angled acid-beats of the support. There’s five of them, presumably not all embroiled in some spider-like network of break-ups and relationships, although you’d be forgiven for thinking frontman Pete and glockenspiel-playing Laurel once dated – they look like two halves. Nobody smiles much, but their melancholy suits the forlorn vocal harmonies and milky-sad melodies that characterise their sound. Recent comparisons to Elliott Smith are misjudged and a bit rich – there’s the wistfulness of The Shins and the lazy swell of quieter Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! suggested at here, but a lot of polishing and tightening to be done before either of these comparisons properly hold water. That said, they’ve only been about for a year or so, so there’s plenty of time. And their nonchalance serves them well in the Macbeth tonight – Exlovers come across humble and wholly likeable, pitching themselves to the crowd perfectly.

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