Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Neighbourhood // Roundhouse, London - Live Review

When I went to see The Neighbourhood on Monday night, I had certain expectations. To be honest, I set them quite low. Not in such a way to say that I heard bad things about them live, or that I don't like the band - I'm a huge fan of their music - but it relative to the sounds on their album. Their guitars are tonally perfect and very specified, whether it is the soaring, eering leads found on the first album, or the trebly acoustic found on the second album. I also knew Jesse, lead singer, had a tendency to improvise on his delivery and even the lyrics. Quite a lot of their music relies upon the melody from him, so I was hoping he would stick to what is necessary and vary on what he could.

I turned out to be correct in my expectations. But let's start with the support first. Kevin Abstract was, well, abstract. I didn't enjoy his set, but then he was there to appeal to the crowd the band had drawn through their mixtape and r'n'b flavours, and not through their guitar-based work. The crowd enjoyed it, so there is that I guess. MOTHXR were another beast entirely, and were pleasant to listen to. They sounded almost like a less confident 1975, with a less obnoxious singer, with low-volume vocals. Having listened to the recordings, I can only assume he doesn't possess quite the standard of live voice as delivered on the record. Which is a shame, as songs like 'Touch' and 'Stranger' sounded fantastic, particularly in regards to guitar. The drums were very generic, and the bassist played with his back to the audience for the majority of the set. The band mentioned several times they were playing their own show the next day, and as they have been on Twitter, which is all good and well as long as the performance is not detracted - which it seemed like it was, sadly.

Then came the main act. The sound quality was much more balanced, with the vocals clearer and louder - and Jesse definitely delivered. Throughout the set, he delivered perhaps half of the vocal lines as they were on the record, and particularly liked to sing off-beat and at a different pace. The newer stuff, less so, which I appreciated, as did the audience. The strange omission of second single 'The Beach' indicated to me that he didn't want to sing as high pitch as he does in the chorus on that song, and throughout the set he rarely hit high notes, or attempted to. When he did, he did them with ease and elegance. It's a shame he didn't do this more.

Aside from the missing 'The Beach' and a mild dip in tempo early on due to a song off the mixtape and 'Baby Came Home', one of their first ever songs, the music flowed, oozing in quality. 'Cry Baby' sounded just right, with enough bass to satisfy an arena, but in the Roundhouse. There has to be a special mention for their session musician, who even had the guitar shone on him during 'Sweater Weather' as he played the acoustic guitar part towards the end. Throughout the night he played some underlying bass or acoustic guitar that wasn't by any means lead, but supplemented the music the band was playing. I am a huge fan of the guitar work both guitarists do, as they sound ambient but driven at times and I have a passion for that. Zach's acoustic guitar was far overpowered in some songs later on, particularly 'Baby Came Home 2', which must surely be a levelling error.

The best moments perhaps came unexpectedly. 'Wiped Out!' could be argued to be the weakest song off the album with the same name, yet sounded fantastic live. The guitar was louder, and the drums in the transition to the end were brilliant, with a fantastic light show highlighting the drummer too. The lighting throughout the gig was effective and not too much. However, having seen clips of the light show and stage setup they had in America, it is a bit disappointing to not see it over here. Perhaps they should have done a tour like this for a little cheaper (£17.50 is a great price for a touring band from America!), and then this autumn come back with the full stage setup. It is worth nothing that they have done a fair few tours already in the UK, and they are only on their second album. After opting to spell their name the UK way, it only seems fair.

Before the gig, I sat next to two business in a restaurant who were talking about the band. They were surprised at the huge queues for the band, which long went past the 7pm doors opening, so clearly were not aware of the fanbase or the recent trends in gigs. One of them looked up reviews for their album, and stumbled across Rolling Stone giving the band 2/5. "2/5!", he exclaimed. The other fellow replied "Rolling Stone? They're old hat, has beens." It was with that I realised the Neighbourhood was unlikely to gain any fans after tonight if they were not hugely into them, and secondly that they thought the magazine was run by the band. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I left them be and saw them at the end absolutely slaughtered, with smiles all around. Maybe they are fans now? All I know is, the gig was a perfect way for them to end the tour, and perhaps start thinking about where to go next on a third album.

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