You know you’re at a British Sea Power gig when there’s some slightly weird stuff at the merch stall and the stage is full of foliage.
The band’s new March release Let The Dancers Inherit the Party has had positive reaction from fans – it’s a triumphant, upbeat and playful collection, designed to give us hope in these dark times, BSP, as always, drawing inspiration from a wealth of sources. And hearing it played live, at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, the material positively shimmers.
The band opens with Valhalla Dancehall’s song about protest – Who’s In Control from 2011, as if to remind us that political madness and instability are cyclic phenomena. This is followed by a run of the new material, starting with International Space Station. One of the pleasures of live performance is when the artists add something indefinable to a song you’ve been listening to, lifting it from ‘nice’ to a thing of pure beauty. Not sure if it’s Matthew Wood’s urgent drumming, Jan Scott Wilkinson’s lush vocals or the seductive refrain “Between the moon and the stars…” but when I hear the song now, this inspired live version is what I remember. Similarly St Jerome is a blinder played live with its extended instrumental section.
They follow this with the first single from Let the Dancers – Bad Bohemian, which feels as it it’s already becoming one of the band’s classics. It starts with a classic BSP spine-tingling intro, helping to rev up an already enthusiastic crowd. What You’re Doing is a dreamy, floaty and layered number, with a definite Fleetwood Mac (Rumours era) edge. Keep on Trying (Sechs Freunde) isn’t one the album’s best with a somewhat clunky Franz Ferdinand feel, but played live it melted into the general enjoyment of the evening.
The new material gradually gave way to a run through of the band’s classics with No Lucifer giving the chance for the crowd to join in with a bit of “easy, easy”, followed by Waving Flags and the emotive The Great Skua. For the encore, which included Carrion and Iggy Pop’s Funtime, British Sea Power reappeared on stage resplendent in silver suits. I kept hoping for (but didn’t expect) Apologies to Insect Life and indeed it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless the show was BSP at their best, together with impeccable stage lighting, atmospheric foliage and the bears which made danced along with the bouncing crowds.