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“Wasting My Young Years” is a wonderfully melancholy title, isn’t it? Full of the self-absorption and sadness that pop can spin into melodic gold. Sung by London Grammar’s Hannah Reid, the lyrics conjure a suitably chilly stasis, while the music played by Dan Rothman (guitar) and Dominic “Dot” Major (percussion/keys) slowly warms to the possibility of release, of moving on. For many, it’s haunting stuff. The band’s debut album, If You Wait, entered the UK chart at No 2. Twenty-five weeks later, it’s still in the Top 10. Why, though, at times during this tepid gig, did I feel I was wasting my somewhat more middle-aged years?
The show started promisingly. “Hey Now” began with Reid’s deep voice incanting like a benign banshee. I heard hints of Nico, Alison Moyet and Lana Del Rey in her stern contralto, and soon wished it were put to better use. London Grammar’s style is described as trip-hop. But their arrangements are neither broodingly taut – like those of their contemporaries The xx – nor murkily paranoid, as with Tricky, the genre’s original mixed-up kid. Instead, they evoked a rather shapeless dolour, decorated with prissy flecks of guitar and gap-year djembe.
There were moments of beauty. “Flickers” ended with the band singing a hushed harmony that brought it a gauzy closure. The breakbeat drops on a couple of tracks, however, had a pat inevitability about them. Earlier in the day, I watched YouTube footage of Portishead, the trip-hoppers nonpareil, to remind myself how strange and vital they seemed in 1994. When it comes to musical dynamics and emotional depth, it’s no contest. London Grammar’s crowd was most animated when urged to cheer before one song was filmed for a video. Otherwise, it kept up a constant hum of chat. Nobody would dare chat over Beth Gibbons.
“Nightcall”, a cover of the obscure French electro number given wider exposure on the soundtrack to the movie Drive, was turned into a dreary melodrama. “Stay Awake” would have induced narcolepsy but for the alarm-clocky insistence of its cymbals. It slumped groggily in search of a groove.
The set finished with “Strong” – fittingly, their strongest, hookiest song despite an obvious rhythmic nod to “Teardrop” by Massive Attack. Their next best, “Wasting My Young Years”, maintains that “It doesn’t matter if I’m chasing old ideas”. Well, not as long as you’re doing something new with them. For me, London Grammar didn’t do enough
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