A few weeks ago, the Camden Roundhouse played host to one of Britain’s great underestimated bands. Perhaps to call them undiscovered would be a misrepresentation for Athlete have had 3 top-ten albums and a couple of top-ten singles, but the sell-out crowd would call them one of the country’s most unappreciated bands. The crowd was mostly middle-class 18-30s, a lot of couples and close groups of friends, which is probably one of the biggest indicators of why Athlete have never taken off in the way they should have. They’re not a band that your whole group of friends will like, some people will understand and some won’t. Truth be told, I didn’t get in to their latest album, Beyond the Neighbourhood, until the 3rd listen, but after that I was hooked. Its beautiful balance of soft guitar, electronic noise and traditional rock has made it one of my favourite albums of 2007.
The gig started somewhat badly. When I discovered that Boy Kill Boy would be supporting, I was quite excited at the prospect, but the reality did not pan out as I had thought. The audience simply weren’t engaged by Boy Kill Boy’s raucous strumming, and tunes that would have other audiences bouncing fell on deaf ears. This wasn’t completely the band’s fault (though the drummer could hardly stop his eyes rolling into his head, looking like he was in intense pain with every beat), the sound was completely wrong for this band. My sound engineer friend kindly pointed out that you couldn’t hear the guitar at all, just the bass and high-end keyboard. It certainly didn’t help that the vocals then were lost in the Roundhouse’s high ceiling, echoing at every opportunity. That’s not to say it was all bad, the band loosened up and sound problems were remedied, but not before the audience was returning nonchalant looks to the front-man’s wry smiles.
After a short break, Athlete took to the stage to rapturous applause and quickly launched into “Second Hand Stores’” (one of my favourite tracks), which buoyed the crowd with their energy and upbeat choice of opener. The gig progressed flicking between all three albums, playing crowd pleasers and all the singles, front-man Joel’s smile exuding happiness and energy back to the crowd. Twenty minutes in and everyone had settled into a rhythm, Athlete continuing to delight the audience with every new song. The crowd certainly seemed to enjoy the melancholy a lot more than I thought they would. This seemed like an audience who would actually sit and marvel at Pink Floyd rather than enjoy bouncing off the walls to Muse. Athlete’s brilliance shone through with some excellent instrumental sections, notably at the end of “The Outsiders” where their keyboard player worked his magic on the sound banks, producing a calming notion on the crowd.
When the lights came up everyone looked satisfied, as though they had came expecting greatness and had received their dues. The out track, “Flying Over Bus Stops” provided a sombre end to a show that had been brimming with life. Whilst some bands like to go out with a bang, Athlete left the audience in no doubt as to their musical style; understated, never compromising on quality, and most of all, absolutely brilliant.
Currently listening to: Radiohead – In Rainbows
Currently Reading: still reading that Anthony Lloyd book
Currently Eating: Goooood food
Currently Watching: Cloverfield and Lost, both brilliant
Currently praying for the writers strike to end because: I miss scrubs