@ Leeds Academy
“We guarantee to play all the singles”, say Athlete.
At this turning point in their career, Athlete are giving clear signs of summing up where they’ve got to, with an eye on a hiatus. Having built a solid fanbase for their remarkably honest and transparent music, they haven’t ever quite cracked the ceiling placed on their career by there already being a Coldplay. I love the sense of reality to their work that makes the sentiment touching rather than the Chris Martin school of whininess. Then again, it was the mawkish sentimentality of Wires that won the band their moment in the spotlight. With four albums out and a “Best Of” just released, this is the “Hits” tour to summarise the band’s efforts. Having packed the Cockpit tight eighteen months back, I wondered how the 4000- capacity Academy would receive them.
Having already sold balcony tickets, it had been too late to close it so the venue doesn’t feel packed but it is still noisy and buzzing. Leeds is in a festive mood – there’s a cold snap, a Christmas market and Athlete’s audience are not hardened rock cynics. The buzz is similar to the small venue tour of summer ’09.
Joel Potts walks on with his acoustic guitar and an old school cassette player to play You Got The Style against a taped backing. When it reaches the wig-out / static section, the rest of the band filter onstage and we’re away. The electronic stylings of Superhuman Touch are a brave follow-up, since this was the album that went down less well (though it sounds well to these ears). Hurricane is a very big song, Twenty-Four Hours sees everyone singing.
Joel is chatty, relaxed and confident, as normal. The bassist, Carey, still looks like he wandered in off the street in his hoody. Jonny Pilcher, borrowed from Weevil, rocks back and forth, carefully working his guitar’s effects pedals. Tim concentrates behind his keyboards, bopping about in Beautiful. Black Swan Song comes over as dull but it may just be an overdose of mid-paced ballads. That’s the drawback to a hits show like this – there’s more variety in the albums. Back Track appears to win enthusiasm back and is worked in as the “do do do song”. It’s a fan’s in-joke, since it wasn’t a hit and the record company rejected it. El Salvador features the wonderfully cheesy Casio sounds that won it favour and Tokyo is one of the band’s most interesting songs. Joel milks Out Of Nowhere (Everyone Wants To Be Part Of The Rock Scene) by stopping and starting it. Westside goes down smoothly before introducing The Outsiders. “It’s about being an idiot”, he says, but it’s the least angry-sounding angry song ever……. It ends in rather a lovely way with multi-coloured lights and the band repositioning themselves. Wires signals an end to the show but there’s an encore to come yet……
Joel makes much of the encore his own and it’s a wee bit dull till the band win me back with a return to their warm, anthemic and friendly sound. He prats about with Vehicles And Animals in a solo spot, which is a shame, since this is the companion to Wires – one the song of a dreamy young uncle, the other the song of a father with fears and responsibilities.
This might be Athlete’s (black) swan song and the evidence of the evening is a warm affection from the crowd and a solid set of mid-paced songs with big choruses and grown-up emotions. Not a bad legacy at all.