Looking back, very few of the bands in the UK’s post-punk class of 2004/2005 can still identify with the sounds that made them critical darlings. The last few years have seen Franz Ferdinand release a synth-heavy dance album, Bloc Party reaching for the rafters (or in Kele Okereke’s case, drum pads and Moogs), and Maximo Park ditching their sense of reckless abandon for the saccharine. However, Sunderland’s The Futureheads have always felt that their wiry guitars, sense of melody, and contagious amounts of energy are a solid enough blueprint to keep releasing quality material in the years that followed their gushed over self-titled debut.
With a strong sense of musical identity, the band have the luxury of focusing their efforts on ensuring that those who see them in concert have a blast hopping along to their fast, infectious bursts of straightforward guitar rock. Perhaps that is why their set at Emo’s was such a joy from start to finish. While it had been four years since the band last came to Austin, the Futureheads rewarded fans for waiting with a night of camaraderie, showmanship, and a performance that proved that you don’t have to change your sound to be a great rock band.
The So So Glos were a wise choice for an opening act, as they share the Futureheads’ desire to get the crowd moving with their style of catchy pop-punk. Songs like “Lindy Hop” and “Here Comes the Neighborhood” demonstrated that the Brooklyn band were all about having a good time, as the band’s four members bounced along with smiles on their faces. They are a punk band that doesn’t take themselves too seriously, but still possess the musical chops to churn out some great tunes.
Less memorable was second band Young the Giant. While the California-based group had a good amount of energy and onstage chemistry, there was very little to distinguish their variation of indie pop from the scores of other bands like them. Even the catchy chorus of “My Body” — which someone unfamiliar with the band could have easily interpreted as “my buddy” — sounded like it’d been done a thousand times before. Regardless, it threw the younger members of the crowd into a frenzy, and for a young band like them, that’s more than enough to declare victory.
By the time the Futureheads came on, the crowd had thinned out a little, as several of those who came to see Young the Giant had left. However, their spots were replaced by members of both opening bands, eager to see their tour mates one last time (the band’s last tour date in Houston did not feature either act). The Futureheads began with the manic title track from their newest album, The Chaos, playing at a breakneck speed, and utilizing the song’s backwards countdown and start-stop dynamics to masterful effect, all sung in their unique Sunderland accents. It was a great way to set the pace for what was to come.
“Decent Days and Nights”, the band’s introduction to the world six years ago, followed suit, with the guitars’ wiry intensity and each member contributing to the catchy vocal round. It was played with the manic energy and skill that defines the band. It also probably explained why guitarist/vocalist Barry Hyde and guitarist/vocalist Ross Millard were sweating profusely by the end of the song. Of course, the audience was right there with them, as the band’s positive vibe and upbeat songs had them singing along and moving their feet. Between songs, the band showed that they have a great sense of humor, with Hyde and Miller urging the crowd to do the “bouncy bounce” as a way to relieve any tensions they may have had, or as Hyde put it, as “a psychological milkshake.”
The Futureheads kept things fast and fun throughout their set, as songs like “Struck Dumb”, “Skip to the End”, and “Beginning of the Twist” maintained the band’s sense of urgency and skillful instrumentation. Millard even got his turn in the vocal spotlight on “Work is Never Done”, his lower register providing a nice contrast to Hyde’s higher pitched singing.
The highlight of the night, however, came when the band invited everyone who had performed that night on stage to help them with their highly lauded cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love”. Hyde then proceeded to divide the room into two sections, with Millard and bassist/vocalist David “Jaff” Craig leading their respective sides in the ping ponging vocals that begin and persist throughout the song.
The band finally slowed things down, if only momentarily, for the a capella flourishes of set closer “Jupiter”. The band demonstrated that their ability to harmonize and willingness to show off their voices is a secret weapon. It was a great moment in and of itself, punctuated by the band hiding behind the speakers for five seconds before their encore. “We got that from Aerosmith,” Millard joked.