NME Brit Pack Tour - Manchester Academy 3 - 22.3.04

Believe it or not there was actually a time when the NME was a barometer of good taste, a reliable guide for some of the best new bands on the scene, but over the past 4 or 5 years with no viable weekly alternative the best that can be said about the publication is that it makes a good gig guide and the rest is always handy should the bog roll run out. The one thing the NME has always done well is the annual tour which has spurned bands such as Coldplay and Starsailor and more recently featured Funeral For A Friend, The Rapture, The Von Bondies and Franz Ferdinand. This Brit Pack Tour you could say is the the mini-me to the to the Brats Tour.

On paper it was The Ordinary Boys who looked most promising, but if there's on thing i've learnt over the years it's not to let one single swing it for you. "It's like a Sisters Of Mercy gig in here" Preston mumbles a few songs in after storming off stage due to a power cut before the band managed to play a note. Whereas some bands take the Smiths as a reference point Preston positively wallows in his depression and rather than come across as a lofty effeminate intellectual ala Gene's Martin Rossitter he simply looks like a petulant kid escaped from Borstal without a clue what to do. It's only really the new single "Week In Week Out", a song which deals with the minutia of daily life, that hit's the spot amongst various forgettable songs which hint at the Jam, but rarely come close and are steeped in mediocrity. Maybe it was just a bad night, but if this is the band at their best then they certainly offer what they say on the tin - very ordinary boys playing ordinary formulaic music.

The Delays on the other hand were a total revelation. Taking in a myriad of influences from Suede and Geneva to the criminally uncool Lightning Seeds and the Supernaturals the band seem to play effortless pop music with the greatest of ease. Almost mathematical synth motifs reminiscent of Kraftwerk being playing by an overexcited 5 year old and wove on the sort of classically crafted songs that Travis used to write before they lost the plot and started writing 6th form political anti-war songs. The new single "Nearer Than Heaven" only hints at the majesty of the Southampton 4 piece's debut album and live the songs have a freshness which hasn't been seen for years.

While it's clear from the outset that the 22-20s are no match for the genius of the Delays, the big question is can they stand apart from the Detroit scenesters enough to truly make this British take on the blues make an impact. The answer is yes and no. "Devil In Me" and "I'm The One" from the bands mini album "05/03" make an impact, but the live nature of the original recording means that there's very little to offer on the live shows that you haven't heard countless times before on CD.  There's also a feeling of the band overstaying their welcome a little as each song segues into another.

While it's doubtful that the 22-20 or The Ordinary Boys will hit the major league, it's certainly the Delays that look most likely to if only for the fact that they stand apart from every single band at the moment and that for once proves that maybe the NME has some hope after all for finding new fresh talent.

Alex McCann

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