It was with middling expectations I approached Tuesday’s British Sea Power show at the Ritz. Despite their stellar reputation, they’d left me underwhelmed on each of the three previous occasions I’d seen them, a phenomenon that confused and frustrated me. How could one of my favourite bands on record fail to knock my socks on three consecutive occasions? Had my expectations been too high? Had I just been unfortunate? I was prepared to give them another shot though. Fourth time lucky, maybe…
I needn’t have worried. Invigorated by the release of their best album in over a decade – the immediate, topical and yet somehow joyous Let the Dancers Inherit the Party – the esoteric sextet (or sechs freunde) delivered an exuberant performance.
Sunderland rockers SLUG opened up and put in a tight display made more impressive by the apparent lack of sound-check. Resplendent in berets and braces, the band went down well with the Sea Power faithful.
Yan, Hamilton, and co. then took to the foliage-covered stage and launched into ‘Bad Bohemian’, the opening track from Let the Dancers…. ‘International Space Station’ followed, with 2011’s call-to-arms anthem ‘Who’s In Control’ returning to complete a rousing opening trio.
The new record featured heavily in the first half of the show, and the tracks certainly held their own against the old favourites. Particular highlights included ‘Praise for Whatever’ and the Hamilton-lead ‘What You’re Doing’, both showcasing some beautiful vocal interplay with viola play Abi Fry. They also featured a brilliant cover of Galaxie 500’s ‘Tugboat’, and Valhalla Dancehall’s epic ‘Cleaning Out the Rooms’.
The energy in room went up a notch as fan-favourites ‘Lights Out for Darker Skies’ and ‘Remember Me’ were blasted out mid-show. Bi-Polar Bear – one of BSP’s two signature bears – made an early appearance during the latter, high-fiving the front row. Frontman Yan (Scott) Wilkinson challenged the audience to sing along to new track ‘Saint Simone’ in the same manner, and they certainly gave it a good go.
After the gorgeous ‘Don’t Let the Sun Get in the Way’, Yan promised that ‘Keep on Trying (Sechs Freunde)’ will be the last new song of the evening, but they’d gone down so well that no-one would have begrudged them more. What followed, however, were sheer unadulterated Sea Power classics, with ‘No Lucifer’, the ever pertinent pro-immigration anthem ‘Waving Flags’, and the the utterly magnificent ‘The Great Skua’ closing the main set, prompting impassioned sing-alongs and more than a few goosebumps.
The band emerged after the encore break in silver boiler suits. Clearly going for a spaceman look, Yan had earlier pointed out on 6 Music that they could also be baked potatoes! After airing the title track from 2013’s ‘Machineries of Joy’, Bi-Polar Bear returned with his mate Ursine Ultra (a HUGE black bear) to dance among the crowd as ‘Carrion’ segued into ‘All In It’ before descending into to traditional BSP end-of-show chaos, with keyboardist Phil Sumner piggy-backing guitarist Martin Noble around the stage.
I’ve heard others describe Sea Power shows as ‘euphoric’ and ‘life-affirming’, and by the end of this gig, I finally understood why. British Sea Power demonstrated that they have emphatically returned to the peak of their powers, both as a live and studio band.