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After legging-it up the stairs and bursting through the door to catch the end of the first song of the Kids in Cars set, ‘Lord of the Land’, the first thing that struck me was just how young these guys look. The second thing that struck me was just how warm the Dragon Bar was – after braving the sleet and snow that seems never-ending at the moment I couldn’t decide whether I was glad to see the electric bar heater on full-blast at the back of the room or not.

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Despite their cherubic appearance, however, Kids in Cars demonstrated calm and subdued confidence opening for the polite, chatty audience, even if the rapport wasn’t entirely there. Their set flowed nicely, and was obviously well thought-out. The guitars and bass sounded gorgeous and added to their surprisingly big sound. Someone thought that singer James’ vocal had a Morrissey-esque quality and although I wasn’t picking up on this myself I did think that his voice could have handled more of the melody. His boyish good looks compensated for his slight shyness and the overall result was a watchable front-man. The stand-out track had to be ‘Species of Ape’ with some funky drumming during the opening bars, however, ultimately this track ended up at the same tempo as the rest of the set. Finale, ‘Pass the Baton’ was disappointingly non-descript and although they have a definitive ‘sound’ and played well, they ran the risk of becoming monotonous at times.

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Manchester’s The Answering Machine initially struck me as a made-over, ego-boosted version of Kids in Cars and I think this comparison stands. The first few notes of their opener, ‘Rose’ set the agenda and throughout the set they demonstrated an unfailing energy and spirit. I was really looking forward to hearing ‘Oh Christina’ live, unfortunately it didn’t quite have the punch that I was expecting, however the small blip was remedied and the cool 80s feel of ‘Obviously Cold’ got me back on track. Their parting song was the amazing ‘Cliffer’, the band’s natural first single which is released in March on Heist or Hit. By public vote, Steve Lamacq will be championing ‘Cliffer’ on next week’s BBC 6 Music Rebel Playlist and I can’t wait to hear it – or the forthcoming debut album which I hope will be just as promising and punchy.

Upstate-New York troupe Ra Ra Riot are touring the UK as headliners after a successful run supporting Editors on their last UK tour, and to promote 2008 debut LP ‘The Rhumb Line’. The cello and violin are integral to Ra Ra Riot’s sound, and it’s easy to see why – they sounded beautiful even when they were re-tuning between songs. There may be a current trend for classical instruments in indie bands and even though Ra Ra Riot don’t really offer anything completely unique they certainly do what the do very well. ‘Oh, La’ was a great track to hear live, and great to watch, as the band members huddled together on a very small stage, but still managed to jump, sway and swagger. With vocalist Wes Miles also effortlessly weaving between the mic centre-stage and a keyboard off the right. The band also looks really, really cool. The girls had an obvious sex-appeal and the guys had fashionable-NY-geekiness down to an art. The crowd, still polite, were asked to move forward and as soon as this happened the atmosphere picked up considerably and later things really took off with the bombastic timpani-beater drum sounds of latest single ‘Can You Tell’. Frustratingly, there seemed to be problems with the sound; I couldn’t hear cellist Alexandra’s backing vocals at all, and sometimes Wes’ voice became muffled and lost amidst the wall of drums and strings.

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This was especially noticeable on my personal favourite, ‘Ghosts under Rocks’. The chorus has a haunting and subtle melody that I struggled hard to pick out without success and the track felt claustrophobic and restrained. Once again, I was appeased with the awesome retro synth sounds on ‘Too Too Fast’ which were thankfully not lost. Ra Ra Riot closed with ‘Dying is Fine’, again one of my favourites which suffered the same fate as other tracks the band have performed. I was really chuffed to have been able to catch this band headlining for the first time in Birmingham and I hope to see them again in a venue which is big enough to let them breathe.

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SETLISTS

RA RA RIOT
Each Year
A Manner to Act
St Peter’s Day Festival
Oh, La
Winter ’03
Gaffa
*new song*
Can You Tell
Run my Mouth
Ghosts under Rocks
Too Too Fast
Dying is Fine

ANSWERING MACHINE
Rose
Lightbulbs
Time
Oh Christina
Obviously Cold
Emergency
Another City
Oklahoma
Cliffer

KIDS IN CARS
Lord of the Land
From Pyongyang With Love
Everything
Props
Species of Ape
So It Goes
Pass the Baton

 

Review – Angela Slater

Photos – Ian Dunn

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