Bluetones

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Concert Review by Kris Griffiths

The Forum, London – March 2002

It’s a warm but windy March evening in Kentish Town, London and whilst strolling to the Forum from the station I wonder to myself how Bluetones fans don’t seem to get any older than their early twenties. Indeed, whilst chatting to a couple of 16 year-olds I briefly switch off to work out that they’d have only been 10 during the tail end of the glorious year of Brit-pop whence the mighty Bluetones emerged into our world.

The Hounslow boys occupy the same middling genus from that period alongside Embrace, Ocean Colour Scene and Shed Seven, and following the recent lead of OCS and the Sheds, they are about to release a somewhat premature greatest hits compilation. But where the previous two’s record companies were merely cashing in quickly before their inevitable downward slide, it seems that the Bluetones, on the basis of tonight’s performance, are drawing a line across their superb repertoire and looking forward to a bright future of increasing greatness. Where their contemporaries seem to have fallen by the musical and commercial wayside, the Tones are slowly sidling from strength to strength.

Support band Easy World are mildly impressive, crowning an energetic set with a catchy ukulele-led number reminiscent of LOSING MY RELIGION. Shortly afterwards Tones tunesmith Mark Morris, clad in his usual dark suit and tie, strolls onstage with his band including a new keyboardist whose huge organ is draped rather gaily in a pink sheet. The boys rip into SOLOMON BITES THE WORM and the fairly large crowd respond with glowing enthusiasm. Morris is soon doing his silly but cool leg-gyrating moonwalk all over the stage, looking like a cross between Michael Jackson and Shakin’ Stevens.

I don’t know whether it’s anything to do with the venue’s acoustics or sound system, but the only other band I’ve seen perform their material with such Cruise Missile precision was Gary Numan’s at the Forum earlier on last year. AUTOPHILIA, SLEAZY BED TRACK, BLUETONIC AND SLIGHT RETURN are all performed with meticulous accuracy, the last two in particular inducing waves of mid-90s nostalgia.

Halfway through the flawless set Morris announces that they are to play a strange choice of cover version and he kids us not. The gentle crooning of Barbara Streisand’s WOMAN IN LOVE is met with mute bemusement from all present. There follows, however, the victorious unveiling of new single AFTER HOURS – a kind of merry protest song about Britain’s stupid licensing laws. Sounding vaguely similar to ELO’s MR BLUE SKY, it has everyone bouncing in agreement and appreciation. The roof-raising IF leaves no doubt as to why it’s always the band’s set concluder, with the delirious crowd la-la-la-ing long after song draws to a close. It’s not often that a gig can bestow such a feeling of exhilaration. I left the place buzzing and inwardly laughing at all those who have written off this band as bland Brit-pop deadwood. The Bluetones will return in triumph.