Review by John Murphy with Photography by Kevin Wells

Maximo Park - Photo by Kevin Wells

For a while, you could be forgiven for thinking Maximo Park had succumbed to the law of diminishing returns. For, despite a stellar career that’s spanned nearly 17 years, there’s a nagging feeling that they’ve never quite topped their classic debut ‘A Certain Trigger’. While there’s been plenty of decent singles, each subsequent album seemed a little more lacklustre – and, maybe, the 2015 tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of that release seemed a bit like a swansong.

However, a couple of years away seem to have revitalized the Newcastle indie-poppers, and new album ‘Risk To Exist’ is easily their best album since their debut. Wisely, they’ve brought some new sounds into play, adding a new funky dimension to many tracks that brings to mind bands like ‘Wild Beasts’ and fellow ‘North-Easterners Field Music’.

Maximo Park - Photo by Kevin Wells

It’s in the live arena that Maximo have always shined though, and so a sold-out crowd at Sheffield’s Leadmill were eager to welcome them back. Firstly though, Manchester’s all-female quartet PINS warmed up the audience with a set that easily be described as blistering. After nearly 5 years together, the energy and chemistry between them is palpable, and as Faith Holgate struts along the edge of the stage singing grimy rock anthems like ‘LuvU4Lyf’, ‘Girls Like U’s and especially the incendiary, howling rage that fuels ‘Serve The Rich’, you can almost sense their fanbase increasing by the song.

Maximo Park - Photo by Kevin Wells

It’s Maximo that everyone’s here to see tonight, as evidenced by the almighty roar which breaks out at the sight of the reliably dapper, be-hatted Paul Smith. Smith is a truly great frontman, one who it’s impossible to take your eyes off whether he be scissor kicking, leaping in the air or even indulging in a spot of Peter Crouch-circa 2006 robot dancing. From the first minute to the last, Smith is an irresistible ball of energy.

Starting off with a double blast from the new album reminds us what a return to form ‘Risk To Exist’ is – opener ‘What Did We Do To You To Deserve’ is an instantly catchy slice of funk, while the title track is a euphoric anthem with a chorus that instantly lodges in your head. There’s an anger bubbling beneath the surface of these new tracks, as Smith introduces ‘The Reason I Am Here’ as a song about “taking a journey through the eyes of idiots…which I think is what is what’s happening to us at the moment”.

Maximo Park - Photo by Kevin WellsMaximo Park - Photo by Kevin Wells

The setlist understandably leans heavy on ‘Risk To Exist’, although there’s still time to revisit old classics like ‘Our Velocity’ and ‘I Want You To Stay’, while there’s even a debut outing (on this tour at least) for ‘By The Monument’, one of the highlights of the band’s second album ‘Our Earthly Pleasures’. It’s songs like these which raise Maximo Park a level about their contemporaries, a world-weary romanticism embodied by lines like ‘Books From Boxes’  – “The pounding rain continued its bleak fall, and we decided just to write after all”.

There’s a real connection between Maximo Park and their fans – it’s more like a catch up with old friends at times rather than a gig, with Smith even finding time to chat about possibly ending the gig with a selection of karaoke classics. Sadly, after a brief (and uncanny) impression of Sting singing ‘Walking On The Moon’, that was all we got, but there was still time for a breathless encore of fan favourite ‘Apply Some Pressure’, before finishing with newbie ‘Get High (No I Don’t)’ which already sounds like a classic-in-waiting – a good sign from a band who, even at this stage of their career, have a reason to exist.

Maximo Park - Photo by Kevin Wells

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