@ Leeds Cockpit
It’s the audience that makes a gig and tonight’s was warm hearted and in love with the band. These “we play the album” gigs are a worry – for lesser bands, it’s the chance for half-hearted crowds to hear that one album they bought when they were a student. Fortunately, it seems from the singing and jumping that everyone bought at least three of the band’s four canonical albums and quite a few bought the couple of recent ones. The atmosphere is great and the mosh-pit full of pogo-ing men and women.
Every generation gets a great pop band and The Undertones were the one for the end of the seventies. With a punk sound, they churned out pop classic after pop classic. Irresistible slices of songs about the things that really matter – “chocolate and girls” (their riposte to The Talking Heads’ “More Songs About Buildings And Food”). As they sing “it’s never too late for dumb entertainment”. Except it was only dumb on the surface, under it was a crafty guitar composition by the O’Neill brothers and a desire to develop. It was that desire that moved the band from pop-punk to pop to soul and the split up. Frontman Feargal Sharkey called it a day and the O’Neills formed That Petrol Emotion. In 1997, with Paul McLoone taking over vocals, they reformed and have since put out two albums of new songs, which they manage to feature tonight.
So the first album is blasted through in half an hour, all the way to a beefy version of Casbah Rock – a demo they’d tagged onto the original album. And that could’ve been it, but they had another forty-five minutes and, in the set’s 75 minutes, they squeezed in 30 songs. Not a band to hang around then……
Cleverly, they play a song off the 1997 comeback album next and it goes down well. Then the thrilling single – You’ve Got My Number before the inevitable Teenage Kicks and the ensuing melee down the front. Is there anyone who doesn’t thrill at this single? Even when it’s sung by middle-aged men? Paul McLoone on vocals has the Sharkey quaver in his voice but it sounds like a natural effect of singing in that register all the time. He makes for a smooth frontman, conveying a camp swagger and showmanship that is winning. A tour through the other hits brings us all too soon to Get Over You and the end.
Before you know it, they are back for half a dozen encore songs (no-one wanted to let them go). Michael looking relaxed on bass and chatty, Damien, fixed rictus on his face as he works his guitar, brother John quietly beavering away in a Can Ege Bamyasi shirt. Micky Bradley is hidden behind the drums. The sound is full and more professional than when I first saw them – when the first album was ALL they had to draw on and they had only a couple of year’s experience, yet they don’t seem to have lost the short sharp punch.
It is thirty-two years since the first album from The Undertones. Would you have recognised Elvis just twenty years after 1956’s rockabilly, in his fat-Elvis period? How about Bobby Sox Frank Sinatra in the forties to schmaltzy crooner in the seventies? The Undertones manage to make pretty much the same sound as they always did, just fuller, and look like they are having a great time. It’s infectious and, once the final chord has rung, the crowd mill around, full of smiles, unwilling to go out into the real world. This has been an evening of happy nostalgia, a long way from the sad affair it could have been. A national treasure, like Madness, this band know how to entertain and, on tonight’s evidence, could win over any crowd.