The Paul Smith Show Returns To Town
Written By Ria Wilkinson Sunday, December 16th, 2007
Maxïmo Park, The Buzzcocks, Good Shoes at Metroradio Arena, Newcastle Upon Tyne
This review comes to you from notes scrawled in the dark upon toilet roll within the gig. Fortunately, it’s the soft, strong and long variety which are attributes I now know are valuable not only to staving the running nose of a cold (the original intent) but also for impromptu note taking! This is a spontaneous and also my freshman gig review, next time I’ll go better prepared–promise!
At 7.30pm, Newcastle's Metroradio Arena’s 10,000+ capacity is impressively busy considering the main act are not on for at least another two hours. The air is full of expectation of the homecoming gig for Maxïmo Park but before that we are to be primed for their “post-punk” performance with a couple of supports including the “special guests”.
Just after 7.30pm a gang of four lads decked out in Santa jackets, green tights and tinsel festooned Santa hats nervously shuffle in a loose pack onto the blank canvas of the stage. They are Good Shoes, the opening act.
They welcome us to the show and openly admit they are somewhat intimidated by the size of the venue they are playing tonight but in the next thirty five minutes they will hold their own in the arena as it continues to fill. They whip through ten tracks from this years debut album "Think Before You Speak" building confidence from behind their instruments and really getting into their stride on the second track, Never Meant To Hurt You. Good Shoes clearly grow as the audience recognise the single and bounce along to the staccato rhythm and this encourages them to fit in some good banter with crowd about Christmas and the distance some of the audience had travelled. Further tracks enthusiastically attacked include Ice Age, Blue Eyes and the Maximo Park flavoured Sophia. The end of the set is built up and the stamp is left on the audience memory with two other singles, We’re Not The Same and the finale of the Young Knives zested All In My Head.
Then suddenly the rapid fire, frenetic set is done and after commenting on it being so cold there was mist in the arena (actually some escaped dry ice), Good Shoes saunter off the stage having successfully charmed their biggest venue.
Speculation of who the “Special Guests” were to be when the gig was announced favoured The Futureheads as a celebration of North East post-punk by demonstrating the festive season of good will of joining Tyneside and Wearside music together. This would have gone down a treat if it had any impact like the awakening and participation of the crowd to the The Futureheads “Hounds of Love” has, when it is played amongst Modest Mouse et al during the interval.
At about 8.30pm we are in for a lesson in punk history and to have the dots joined between influence and interpretation as The Buzzcocks nonchalantly swaggered on stage in the half filled arena. In contrast to Good Shoes, there are no festive orientated gimmicks in costume here, although both the drummer and a guitarist looked as though they have just left an office Christmas party in their purposefully disheveled shirts and ties.
Without any real attempt to engage with the audience, they launch into a thirty five minute set that sweeps through their back catalogue in eleven tracks. After several metamorphoses over the years, the Buzzcocks original line up has clearly changed as the drummer and bassist looked rather younger than Pete Shelley. The first couple of tracks are knocked out and then clearly warming up, Shelley sheds his fatigues style jacket to a matching disheveled shirt and the trademark black with the red stripe military style pants. At this point the guitarist takes over vocal duty providing a bit of contrast to the previous familiar pitch of Buzzcock vocals.
As with Good Shoes, tracks are thrashed out in rapid succession but somehow lack the passion of the younger band. Even the favourites What Happened To...?, What Do I Get?, Why She’s A Girl From A Chainstore have a feeling of a group playing on autopilot. By the time the penultimate, and surely much anticipated Ever Fallen In Love... is performed, it feels very much like listening to a good soundalike covers band in a pub - only with less verve. It is no surprise that Ever Fallen... is their most infamous track, it has more melody then the rest of their material showcased here.
The set draws to a close with Orgasm Addict where the Buzzcocks do seem to pour a little more of themselves into the execution but it’s a little late in the game to persuade it wasn’t an indifferent performance of a number of tracks that seem to meld into one. If this is selling original punk, then today I wouldn’t be buying. As I was not present to witness punk when it meant something, it is sadly probably a little lost on me as original when today there is so much derivative of it about.
The stage is prepared and a newly positioned white drum kit certainly stands out against the black backdrop, as do the strategically placed orange towels and water bottles. At 9.45pm the arena must be near if not at capacity as main stars of the show start their homecoming set. Red and white lights flick through the glass panels at the back of the black stage to a simple sound of (possibly) a vibraphone that creates a meditative feeling as the audience hushes and then begins whooping in anticipation. With simple geometric shapes and a colour scheme of black, white and red it is reminiscent of the White Stripes but it is Maximo Park’s gig tonight.
From out of the black, four of the band emerge together and almost jog to their positions behind the white drum kit, the keyboard, etc such is their keenness to start. They are dressed in black, save for the keyboardist in a white t-shirt.
A moment later, Paul Smith canters out. He is resplendent in a black suit and tie, a red shirt and red patent shoes that catch the light, and let’s not forget the signature black bowler in place over his jaw length mop of hair. He energetically leaps on to the platform of the drum kit and launches up into his star kick jump that will come to punctuate the set as he bounds the length of the stage.
The Paul Smith show has begun.
The music immediately segues into the opening track both of the set and their second album “Our Earthly Pleasures” - Girls Who Play Guitars. The audience is alive with recognition and sings the lyrics along passionately as they transfix on Smith as he constantly moves across the stage in the full three dimensions. His voice is powerful, clear and northeastern lilted as the vocals on the record and easily fills the arena.
The twin screens next to the stage allow us to easily see the detail of Smith’s face as he sings the emphasis and emotion of the lyrics through his large forlorn yet fierce eyes and heavy brows. The track ends and he welcomes the crowd, dedicates the gig to the people that paid to get in and explains how they started the year playing tinier venues locally like the Cluny and were amazed to be finishing it in the arena. Graffiti, a single from the first album “A Certain Trigger”, is next and is greeted with the warmth of an old friend and with barely a breath to pause the third track to be unveiled is A Fortnights Time. Although lesser known, the devilish mischief in Smith’s eyes as he rallies the lyric “...you will be mine!” and the charm of “Would you like to go on a date with me?” takes the audience into the tale of setting sights on the prey of a romantic interest.
After maintaining his ferocious gallivant around the stage through The Coast Is Always Changing – another singalong anthem, and love song Parisan Skies, the black jacket is shed for Russian Literature. This reveals the red shirt further to allow Smith to be picked out across the stage better as he bounces and jumps with the keyboardist who is also giving it some during the tracks as far as staying connected to the keys allows.
There are odd moments snatched between the tracks where Smith pants as he explains how much the band feel connected to Newcastle despite none of them coming from the city precisely and to explain a little of meaning or relevance of some songs. This in particular dovetails into the slower paced I Want You To Stay (the final single from A Certain Trigger) with tales of “cranes collecting the sky” striking a recognition chord in the locals in the audience. The track is accompanied by an intense white light show which enhances the echo refrain of “You’re always my reminder!”. To continue to theme of tracks with references that the natives of the evening will enjoy the most, the next track is By The Monument which the crowd relishes singing.
Up to this point, the eight tracks have all been faithfully recreated from the album sound apart from the variation in dramatic delivery of the lyrics. Smith explains that Maximo Park have wanted to experiment with the performance of some tracks using strings that are present on the album but not normally in performance and accordingly a cellist, violinist and a vibraphonist are stationed next to the drummer on his platform. Their contribution starts on recent single Karaoke Plays and the strings in particular add a richness to the music as it swells beneath Smith’s distressing despair as he delivers the chorus.
Your Urge – normally quite a frenetic track, is served much stripped down of guitar and drums to allow the guest instruments to provide an almost filmic quality for half the track before the guitar and drums launch back in to bring it to a desperate close. The guest instruments are present for a further song, the uplifting Sandblasted and Set Free but are mostly lost in the surge of keyboard and guitar.
At this point, the audience is enquired whether it fancies at bit of dancing, to ‘“rock your body” as Justin might say’. There is anticipation in the crowd that perhaps now the set is eleven tracks in, there is potential for mixing it up by introducing a cover – the hint here pointing towards the “Like I Love You” from Justin Timberlake covered with great panache and deftness by Maximo Park for the recent celebrations of Radio 1’s 40 birthday. In the middle of this exchange with the audience, a green laser projection is accidentally lit prematurely and the cat is declared out of the bag...there is a quite a lengthy simple electronic keyboard intro that sounds similar to The Unshockable but could easily be turned to Timberlake and after a few notes in, it is The Unshockable and Justin will not be outdone here tonight. There is a tinge of disappointment in the audience but the intensity and rousing melody of the song soon gets the crowd back into the spirit despite the negative message of the lyrics.
Smith works the crowd more vigourously leaping about from stage end podium to platform throwing in a repertoire of kicks, jumps and encouraging arm gestures to invite further singing and dancing from the spectators. It is hardly any surprise when he stunt collapses, panting, at the foot of the drums platform to demonstrate his exertion! Quickly he leaps up and to catch his breath, he dedicates to next song, Apply Some Pressure, to the family and friends of the group and the crowd attacks the chorus of “What happens when you lose everything? You just start again. You start all over again...” with glee. The battle between energetic stage antics and dapper outfit is finally being won by the antics when the black is removed prior to Nosebleed although the bowler had remains firmly in place.
There is the odd minor squeak of feedback and the end of the set is felt to be nearing so there is that wistful hope that they will play the favourites. Maximo Park do not disappoint with a strong performance of popular first album track Limassol and end the set with the first single of the most recent album “Our Velocity” which is ferverently sung along to by the masses as if a hymn and played against a backdrop of random numbers to fit the line “numbers fill the screen, and you’re expected to know they mean”. As the music dies away, the applause, cheers and whistles fill the arena where the music had only seconds ago and as the lights raise to the band bowing and thanking the Newcastle crowd assured that as long as the word “Newcastle” is said, whoops will ensue.
The band take off for the back stage after wishing festive greetings to the audience. Roadies enter the stage and all eyes are trained on them to determine an indication of an encore... sure enough a speaker is being replaced not removed and all eyes stay trained on the stage for the return...
Ten minutes later, Paul (now in a black short sleeved shirt) and the gang do return to the stage much to the joy of crowd which is perceptible by the applause and cheers. There is a now a rug out for the bassist to stand on and they are also rejoined by the cellist, violist and vibraphonist.
The process of elimination of playing most of their back catalogue (sixteen tracks by now), allows some educated guessing. However, they open their encore with Acrobat the penultimate track from “A Certain Trigger”. It’s an interesting choice and a total contrast to the previous closer Our Velocity in pace, sentiment, familiarity for the crowd for it’s not one of their most known tracks. For the either album, it marks a change of sound for Maximo Park, not least because the verses are recited in contrast to a sung chorus and this stillness is layered over a simple, buzzy, distorted guitar noise more akin to Kevin Shields, or The Radio Dept then the punchy, immediacy of Maximo Park’s signature style. “Acrobat” is played somberly and tenderly to match the plaintive, anguished lyrics which are seemly recited from a small red leather bound notebook (brandished earlier in the set when leaping about) held aloft by Smith as he moves minimally within the steady green laser projection.
When the song is finished, it is announced that the track won’t be played again for some time and it was hoped it was enjoyed - possibly suggesting that it’s not a favourite of the group to perform and perhaps the lyrics really were being recited, not just for effect! After than downbeat start to the encore, things are lifted by the still melancholy but bit pacier Books From Boxes which was lapped up. The ultimate finale of the evening was of course the now glaring omission from the set list, Going Missing. Needlessly to say every word is chanted in exuberance of the audience wringing one last drop out of the evening and as the terminal lyrics are spoken, there is a burst of shimmer as strips of black and gold glitter are released from the ceiling of the arena...the set finally ends and once again Maximo Park thank the crowd and sign off by shouting “And they said there was no atmosphere in here [the arena]!” and wander off the stage to the holidays, job done.
And so, at 11.15pm, we wander out into the night. There is the strong impression that it really is the Paul Smith show but when Maximo Park brought him on board in 2003, surely this the reason why – showmanship. Smith writes most of the songs with inputs from the rest of the group, so they are his lyrics and sentiments and not playing an instrument on stage, he has the freedom and indeed the onus to be the performer. This seems to suit the non-exhibitionist group members well (who chose to dress in black so melt away into the backdrop?) and the gives the keyboardist a foil. Maximo Park can certainly fill the arena and no stage seems to be too big for Paul Smith to own.
As the gig considered as a composite, there were a few missed opportunities. Firstly some cross pollination between the acts on would have really gelled the punk “then and now” flavour to the evening, for example, some onstage guesting, or perhaps a creative cover. As it was a festive period (December 15th), a festive cover could have been considered, especially by Good Shoes already decked out accordingly but it’s understandable they would prioritise getting their own material out to the larger audience. Maximo Park could have used the opportunity to perhaps to test the water with a little new material – as least they are on forgiving home territory here- and of course there was the small ripple of disappointment about the Timblerlake cover, but you can’t win them all. Out of all three acts tonight, it is Good Shoes who will take away the most.