Just like any good layer cake, a showcase gig has to taste good all the way through. Well, sound good. Either way, it’s a difficult task. This year’s XFM Winter Wonderland at o2 Academy Brixton was pretty well flavoured.
The nice thing about showcases is everyone starts on time. At 7pm promptly, openers Royal Blood took the stage with their very heavy sound. The duo whizzed through their set, and the standout song wasn’t their hit Little Monster, but instead Ten Tonne Skeleton. They played as if no one was there, yet managed to be completely engaging at the same time.
Next up, a complete gear-shift in the form of To Kill A King, a welcome break from Royal Blood’s relentless bass drum. To Kill A King came complete with Santa-hat-wearing keyboard player and softer folk songs with twinkling electronica. They paved the way for the even folksier one-woman-band, Billy the Kid.
“There’s more people in this room than in the town I live in,” Billy the Kid chuckled sweetly into the microphone. Unfortunately she was overwhelmed by the masses. The addition of guest vocalist Frank Turner for her final song didn’t help. Turner sucked the spotlight with his stage presence, and sometimes flailing arms and the normally powerful This Sure As Hell Ain’t My Life fell flat. She left the stage seconds after the song was over as the crowd was left remembering Turner, not her.
From Billy the Kid we were graced by Catfish and the Bottlemen. These boys from North Wales were completely at home on stage. Front man Van McCann’s performance was evocative of the self-destructive energy of Nineties grunge (and not just for his Cobain-look-a-like jumper). They were a much needed energy boost mid-way through.
Again, the showcase fell a bit short with the performance of The Horrors. Besides seeming like they were asleep on stage, each song in the 25 minute set felt as if it went on forever. Like Billy the Kid, they may have faired better in a smaller venue, with more time to connect to the audience.
John Kennedy, and a note-toting Frank Turner, presented the XFM Inspiration Award to Billy Bragg. “I’m sick of comedians being political, it’s time bands got political as well” Bragg half admonished before launching into his brief but commanding set, finishing with crowd favourite A New England.
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls were the headliners for a reason and, despite having just got off a plane from Nashville, Turner and co. put on a frenzied acoustic punk-folk show. The brief mess up of lyrics to Try This At Home was easily laughed off and they played a well-received new song The Next Storm, finishing up with Four Little Words. After such a performance, for Turner alone, the audience must have left feeling they got their monies worth.
Even with the few almost-flops, XFM Winter Wonderland was a great sampling of music, from folk to rock to punk and a blending of all three.
(main image: jonathan brady/pa; body images: richard johnson/xfm)