Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith took to the stage to huge roar of adulation and dived straight into “Say Something Loving” off their third album I See You. From the first notes there was a palpable bounce and strength to their sound, resonating throughout the venue, from the moment Oliver uttered the song’s first lines, the crowd duly complied and adulation swiftly turned to attention.
As orange light descended and bathed the stage with its many mirrors in its subtle expectant glow, Romy and Oliver took to the centre facing each other to begin “Crystalised” and drifted away once the excellent backbone that is Jamie got the pulsing drumbeat going. The two frontpeople both exuded different auras, Romy carefree in her own timidly controlled way and Oliver beaming with confidence that dripped into his playing, his stances and his voice, as pure as on the records, if not more so.
At end of this second song, Oliver waited for the shrieks, the clapping and whistles to die down. And waited. Stepped up to the mic to try and thank the crowd and say a few words but backed down when the noise level intensified. Waited some more. Tried a second time but the decibels only went up a notch again.
If you’d walked in at that moment, you’d have been forgiven for assuming the concert was at an end, the two frontpeople dazed, humbled and lost for words until after a whole minute and a half, he managed to get some words in, introducing themselves and thanking the crowd for such a reception.
Jamie seemed to be the glue that held everything together, going from tribal drummer on “Crystalised” to his usual beat mastery on next track “Islands”. Their newfound upbeat groove seeped into their old songs imbuing them with an urgency and grandeur not existent on the studio versions, with Jamie providing the deep and solid foundation to lend them power. And with both singers responding forcefully, Romy’s hair swaying left and right as she ends the song and Oliver’s laidback basslines, the tightness of their sound seemed to reflect the band’s state of mind as the three of them easily filled up the stage and their sound filled up the venue.
The bass properly kicked in on the sultry “Lips” before fading into the background on second album’s “Sunset” before they stripped it all bare and showed us the vulnerability we were so used to on their first record when Jamie, in another show of versatility, started playing a soft melody on the piano that turned out to be “Basic Space”, both singers instrument-less as they crooned to the crowd, with Romy particularly fragile. Alone, she continued in the same vein with the soul-baring “Performance” which quickly blended into “Brave For You”.
They kick started things again with “Infinity”, marked by Jamie’s opening hi-hat salvo and the song’s crescendo intensifying into euphoria before the storm’s end. They followed that up with the bouncy “VCR”, eliminating any doubts Romy may have had about being superstars. The trio of “I Dare You”, “Dangerous” and “Violent Noise” proved once more how comfortable and confident they are with their new tunes before they returned to their sophomore effort with “Fiction” slowing things down a final time before really upping the ante with their next double.
Jamie called upon his DJing alter ago and really got into his groove by transforming the venue into what felt like one big ecstatic club with a remixed version of “Shelter”: the blend of instruments and beats culminating in a joyous handclapping outro with flashing lights and descending overhead mirrors a feast for our eyes and perfectly reflecting their latest effort and it all transitioned seamlessly into Jamie’s solo hit “Loud Places”. The delirious endorphin rush that followed lasted until well after they walked offstage – even after the encore.
They had one more loud dancy “On Hold” to unleash on the satiated crowd before showing returning to their roots with an intense and fast-paced version of fan-favourite instrumental “Intro” and ending the night with the soft, nostalgic and ever-wistful “Angels”, prompting the night’s last singalong to the chorus of “love, love, love”.
All that was left was a performance in itself of this ending word as, once again, the roles were reversed and the band, as watchers, had to wait a humbling eternity, hands over face, awed smiles and awkward what-do-we-do motions, for the crowd to quieten down after 3 or 4 attempts at addressing the reverent Belgium public. They and I both doffed our proverbial hats off to the local attendees, who returned the gestured after being treated to a performance that was honest, confident, mature and respectful of past material, now imbued with sterner backbone to strengthen the fragility of their earlier work, all the while strutting their tracks like Oliver’s long limbs all over the stage.
(Forest National, 1st of March 2017, Brussels, Belgium)