The Junction, Cambridge, 20th February 2011.
British Sea Power are one of those bands that come along every few years to reaffirm one's faith in the basic guitar-band model of rock - even if they do have a cornet and an electric viola underpinning the guitars, and sing love songs to Antarctic ice sheets or create new soundtracks to 1930s documentaries. So when they turned up in Cambridge, I went along to see how they were live.
But first, there was the support band, Bo Ningen, who I guess can be described as some kind of mutant Japanese thrash metal. They opened with the sort of apocalyptic noise that a heavy metal band might use as a climax, then carried on from there. Works for some people, I guess.
Then, after half an hour in which the roadies attached assorted foliage to the mike stands, British Sea Power were on, kicking off with "Who's in Control", the opening track from their latest album. They turned out to be a well-rehearsed, capable bunch, albeit that their down-the-line rock approach on stage lost some of the breathy atmospherics of their recorded work. It's what the crowd wants, of course, and they may have given something of a hostage to fortune with the football-chant refrain in "No Lucifer" - the front rows of the audience were anticipating it some time before it came along - but there's no denying it's a good song, and they followed it with the punchy "Stunde Null" to hammer something home. That was around the middle of the set, after "Larsen B", "Something Wicked", and "Lights Out", and some of the subsequent songs weren't quite so interesting, making me wonder if they'd shot their bolt rather - but then they delivered "Living is so Easy" followed by "Waving Flags", which nailed that worry. "It Ended on an Oily Stage" showed up, too.
From where I was standing, British Sea Power seem caught in tension between being a crisply efficient, conventional guitar band, following the fifty-year-old script of "finishing" and then playing an encore and so forth, and being something a little bit more idiosyncratic and whimsical and British-rock-surrealist, with decorated stages, violas, and back-projected movie snippets. But they're actually rather good at both, so I'm not complaining at all.