It's been a long time since last I saw these guys, so long in fact that original drummer (the late Jon Lee) was still with them then. Though they've been round a few times since I've not really kept up with what they've been doing, and expected this show to be fairly low-key. Wrong! The larger upstairs room at Liverpool's o2 Academy was packed out with an expectant crowd, an excellent turnout for a Monday night. Clearly their fanbase has held up well unlike some other 'alternative' guitar bands from the 1990s, although from what I saw and heard they've not really changed that much in the intervening years.
Frontman Grant Nicholas now has his hair long and straggly, not unlike a certain deceased Grunge icon and the comparisons are compounded by the guitars he chooses to play (Fender Jazzmaster or Jaguar, albeit right-handed). Add to that he is singer-guitarist in a power trio that specialises in quiet/loud three-minute power pop anthems, and the link is complete. I haven't even touched on their cover of 'Breed', played in the encore! Bassist Taka Hirose was almost unrecognisable, now sporting long dark hair in place of the cropped peroxide barnet I knew a decade ago.
Once the group came out on stage, they didn't hang about. Short snappy songs came in a relentless barrage, most of which I didn't actually know but it hardly mattered, familiar or not they all fit the same template. Surprisingly, 'Buck Rogers' came mid-set and not at the end as might have been expected, which caused a mass bounce in the packed crowd. Nicholas looked pleased at both the turnout and the reception, many of their songs are made for the live setting and there was much jumping around throughout the set. He kept between-song chatter to a minimum however, the set was only just over the hour mark but in that time they managed twenty songs. Although firmly cast as 'alternative' or even 'indie' (the on-stage keyboard player was sporting a trilby hat, a definite 'indie' trademark!) their songs are very guitar-heavy with powerchords a-plenty. Solos are few and far between though, and many songs end suddenly (BAMM! BAMM! - thank you!) with only a handful given the Big Rock Ending (long-drawn out song ending) treatment - 'Just A Day', played in the encore, was one of these, and their Big Rock Ending segued into the previously mentioned cover of 'Breed'.
I was very impressed with latest drummer Karl Brazil - he joined in 2009 in place of Mark Richardson who has since rejoined Skunk Anansie - he drove along the pounding rock anthems superbly and I often found myself watching him - a definite 'hit 'em and they stay hit' kind of drummer.
For all that, and it was a good gig, I'm not totally sure I really enjoyed it. They played well, they went down great, but something didn't quite hit the mark with me. Maybe it's just that they're the same now as they were in 2001, they've not really done anything different to make me sit up and take notice.
Perhaps also it's just that there are still others like them who are still doing this kind of thing, Ash immediately spring to mind, or perhaps they just do come across too much like a British Nirvana as I intimated earlier. I think it's just that as good as they are live, there's little to mark them out as special.
I'd see them again if they came back to Liverpool, but if it sold out before I got a ticket I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep.