Bastille’s singer, Dan Smith, once planned to be a journalist. In financial terms at least, the 25-year-old Londoner made the right career call. To the relief of sub-editors everywhere, his group’s debut album, Bad Blood, has “stormed” the charts. It’s been number one in the UK and is doing well elsewhere. Jaded members of the fourth estate haven’t been kind, though, to the four-piece’s anthemic, synth-driven indie-pop. To say something is “mildly clubby Coldplay” is to damn with the faintest of praise. At the first – jam-packed – night of two in Brixton, however, there was no denying Bastille’s fervent connection with their peers.
On record, Bastille display more craft and nuance than they are given credit for. Live, it’s all conviction and noise. Smith, with a quiff you could land a jump-jet on and wearing a grey hoodie, bobbed and weaved like a rapper. Was there a reggae or dance hall lilt submerged in some of the tunes? I couldn’t be sure for the near nu-metal intensity of the percussive attack, which featured two large snares at the front of the stage as well as the kit at the back.
Many of Bastille’s songs follow a similar pattern: emotive “woah-woahs” to gird the loins, an almost R&B earnestness to the lead vocal and a tribal thump to the drums. The latter meant the show had the relentless tempo of a spinning class. Great if you can keep up. While “Laura Palmer” and “Icarus” (yes, David Lynch and classical civilisation are touchstones) thrived on their pummelling catchiness, other tracks blurred with this uniformity of approach.
Variety was rare. The use of guitar offered a goth-blues riff on new song “Blame” akin to a trainee Depeche Mode. “Overjoyed”, with its ponderous piano and skittering breakbeats, was join-the-dots James Blake. During “Flaws”, Smith waded deep into the crowd, still singing. The track’s wiggly arpeggio came across like a bulked-up Passion Pit, as befits an artist who began as a one-man band in his bedroom.
In the encore, the best was saved for last. Bolstered by the support act’s backing vocals, which gave those “ehyo-ehyos” a shape and power their equivalents often lacked, “Pompeii” brought the house down. Yet the deliriously received Snap/ Corona cover mash-up, “Rhythm Is a Dancer/The Rhythm of the Night”, immediately preceding it (student-party cheese on a more presentable tray) seemed emblematic. Rhythm was the night. And some.