The evening began with Empty White Circles, who recently performed at Oxjam Oxford Takeover. As always, first bands tend to suffer from a lack of listeners or at least interested and motivated ones, so after their first song, Empty White Circles asked the audience to step forward. Never having heard of the band and eager to know more about them, I stepped forward and what was to ensue was not, in the least, disappointing.
They smashed it. Their guitarist gave an epically proportioned solo both musically and physically, worthy of Hendrix on a good day. There were several monumental breakdowns which nearly sent some of the crowd into a head-banging frenzy and the singing, harmonies and the closing acoustic song were very charming and authentic. Vocally, the band retains many similarities to Bright Eyes but they also have a country sound and some Death Cab For Cutie-like guitar styling. It was an impressive performance, but the only criticism would be that the breakdown in ‘Positives’ could have been extended. The final part of the set, where the whole band gathered in the centre of the room and asked the audience to sing along whilst they played unplugged, was an absolutely brilliant stunt. It left a very strong taste in everyone’s mouths.
Whilst Empty White Circles were hard to follow, it would be an understatement to say that We Are The Physics only kept up with them. The band looked like a group of hipster academics (not unlike the Big Bang Theory crew): short-sleeve shirts, ties, glasses, converse and instruments riddled with stickers of anything from biohazard-warning-tape to Fallout (a post-apocalyptic scenario video-game) stickers. These boys certainly had the costume section covered, but when they struck the first notes, it became apparent that the music section was no less sharp.
If you imagine the musical combination of The Locust and We Are Scientists, then you might find a likeness with We Are The Physics’ very personally interpretative sound. The drums were cutting, the vocals were near-robotic perfection and their punctual, canonised harmonies soared over guitars that enthralled many into head-banging. The whole set was theatrical and energetic; the musicians sprang left and right, stood on the drum kit, jumped into the audience or lay on the floor, but sometimes they just left movement to the rhythms of their music. A clear sense of comedy and entertainment was present, and if you ever need to watch something to brighten up your evening (and these wild youths are in town!) THEN GO SEE THEM.
When it came to We Were Promised Jetpacks’ set, they opened with a long-winded, droning, shoegaze-like intro. Some technical issues occurred during the second song; it appeared that the effects pedals were not working properly. Thankfully, vocalist Adam Thompson kept us all entertained whilst the electronics were fixed on stage. The instrumental aspect of the music was enjoyable, often accumulating in a loud, droning climax, but the vocals seemed to intrude a bit on the music. The post-rock instrumentation (very similar to the likes of 65daysofstatic) and the typically indie singing style embodied in the band’s hit song, ‘Quiet Little Voices,’ were, frankly, at odds with the rest of their set.
The overall live performance was very static – perhaps this was an effort to allow the music to do the talking – but it then begs the question: what is the point of a live show? There was unfortunately little movement or taste for theatricality, which really would have built a relationship and illustrated the band’s personal investment in their music. Since they were preceded by acts that put so much energy into their performances, We Were Promised Jetpacks appeared to be lacking that aspect. While their post-rock sound is powerfully executed on record, it just did not work well enough on stage.
Regardless of some moments of poor sound engineering and technical difficulties, the night was still worth the investment, especially with Empty White Circles and We Are The Physics’ performances. Regrettably, expectations may have just been set too high with We Were Promised Jetpacks.