Live Review: Little Comets at Oxford’s O2 Academy22nd February 2017
Watching Little Comets walk on stage at the O2 Academy, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d chosen the wrong Thursday night to go out. I certainly was, regretting booking tickets to a gig the day after halfway hall. The only distinguishing feature of the band was a lone navy blue bobble hat, and as the stage lights came up I realised that this wasn’t a band that would carry me through my self-inflicted exhaustion. As it turned out, I was in for a treat.
The support act, Eliza and the Bear, did bear my weight. They bounded through an excited, enthusiastic and annoyingly upbeat set, forcing the crowd into a head bobbing daze. Only once did they stop jumping around the stage in time to the driving bass drum, asking for an invite to Truck Festival. I couldn’t help but smile at the buoyant band, raising my expectations for the headliners. Was I really tired? I wondered if I should jump along too.
But, it appeared I was to be kept awake another way. Little Comets moved from song to song with little more than a thanks to the crowd. Backed by a mix of indie rock and electronic effects, Frontman Robert Coles was enthralling. He played with care, eyes down and mouth contorted, concentrating on reaching beautiful harmonies with Michael Coles (lead guitar), Matt Hall (bass guitar) and Matt Saxon (keyboard). The behaviour was confusing from members of a group with such loyal following on display in front of the stage – who were singing, bobbing, and even performing interpretative dance to the rising and falling guitar lead. Songs from previous albums, In Search of Elusive Little Comets (2011) and Hope Is Just a State of Mind (2015), were known line by line by those watching, followed politically-charged word by word. The new album Worhead, released 10th March, did not receive the same treatment, but captivated all the same.
As the lights of the venue shone from the floor, a flickering golden glow lighting up the dark ceiling like an opened treasure chest, I realised what was causing such an interesting dynamic: Little Comets were nervous. Strange actions suddenly made sense – the authentic appreciation of the cheers of the crowd, the lack of eye contact, the rare laugh from one musician to another. The group were sharing new music, worried about their sound in a way completely at odds with their support act. Robert commented that the band only concentrated on their songs, and didn’t think about performing them live. ‘Hopefully it’s not too bad’, he laughed uneasily.
It wasn’t bad at all. The nervousness of Little Comets introduced a genuineness to the music I had not expected. The songs weren’t performed to the crowd, but performed for them, seeking approval. Only the closing number brought the infectious, pop-enthused, confident appeal I had predicted. The crowd swirled like a wave to ‘The Dancing Song’, and the band finally looked at ease. All thoughts of the mistakes made at halfway hall had left me as I was lost in my appreciation of the music – and that induced amnesia can only be a good thing.