Attention, please. All mall-punks, suburban goths, too-too hip indie citydwellers, backwards-baseball-cap boys and low-rise-jean girls; you all owe a debt of gratitude to Fox Television. Yes, that’s right, every one of you. For all our scoffing over Adam Brody’s increasingly off-putting Ben Gibbard fetish, or over the absurd ghettoization of Chino, Fox’s The O.C. hath brought sold-out, all-ages Futureheads shows stateside, and for that ye will be grateful.
Sure, the less discerning among you might credit the Sunderland sluggers’ success to their last true tour—they scored the opening slot for fellow UK postpunk revival group and wholly owned Urban Outfitters subsidiary Franz Ferdinand. Please.
From my perch at Chicago’s 2,000-seat Metro, I spy quite a few skinny, blonde teens who just three years ago were using glitter pens to draw hearts around photos of Justin Timberlake. Would they really be sporting their new asymmetrical haircuts in the face of the spastic punk stylings of a band like the Futureheads were it not for the pretty, pretty denizens of Newport Beach shakin’ that thang to “Meantime”? Of course not. So finally, I say, if a little bastardization is the price of packing good shows with energetic younguns, then three cheers for The O.C.
The Futureheads brought an inordinate amount of equipment and ephemera with them: futuristic, lollipop-like cutouts to adorn the stage, along with a banner replicating the cover of their self-titled debut album and an impressive array of laser-like projections, strobes, and other lights. This space-scape artifice only served to underscore, by contrast, the simplicity inherent in four decent-looking British lads playing straight-ahead punk rock.
From the outset, as they stormed the stage with the first single, “Decent Days and Nights”, it was clear that, contrary to what some might expect, there would be no herky-jerky robot dances, no overemphasized “angular” guitar playing. No, at a time when every band from here to Williamsburg wants to be Joy Division, the Futureheads are content to heed examples set by XTC and the Jam.
The Futureheads are a band with three frontmen, all jumping, all posing, and, most importantly, all harmonizing. Yes, those Brit-boy harmonies that make The Futureheads record so endearing are even better live. Bassist “Jaff” joins the two guitarists (Barry Hyde and Ross Millard) on vocals, and the harmonies are even more crisp than on the record. Singing the intro of “A to B” without guitars, or rolling through their “only slow song” (“Danger of the Water”), they easily could’ve passed up any top-notch a cappella group.
But the Futureheads aren’t content with mere three-part harmonies, goodness, no. Indulging in a jolly bit of crowd manipulation, they had the crowd do the “Ah, oh, oh, oh” at the end of “He Knows” (which the crowd used later to call them back on stage for an encore), and most impressively, to join in the various ohs and ahs in their cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love”. Generally stunts like this fail but, strangely, the crowd stayed on tempo and on key. Chalk up another one for the kids!
The Futureheads play it fun, fast, and flailing. When it wasn’t their turn to sing, Jaff would back away from his mic, play his bass, and gleefully mouth the words; Hyde dusted off the classic stab-the-air-with-your-guitar move; and Millard just grinned. Despite the seizure-inducing light show, the paper that dropped from the ceiling during “Man Ray”, and all the other futuristic trappings, the Futureheads would rather wear big goofy grins on stage than worry about their image. That’s what distinguishes them from the show that brought them all up.