The Maccabees

There is not a lot happening in Cambridge in August unless you are one of the thousands Italian students pretending to learn English with a two weeks course and shopping with a group of (Italian) friends.

So while these Italian speaking youth occupies the city with their yellow rucksacks without being aware that a nice gig is happening next to their summer school, the bored Cambridge teenagers rotting in the pouring summer rain, all the university mates away from their colleges, are looking forward to a night which has been appropriately age restricted to 14+.

Soaked, I arrive at the Junction to catch my friend first and The Maccabees live soon after. They have probably played Cambridge six or seven times in the last year and I did my best to miss all their dates. This extemporaneous visit in town, no one plays Cambridge when the University is closed, is definitely worth a chance having the bonus of Pete and the Pirates supporting.

You encounter mainly 3 kinds of show in UK: Proper tours, festivals and special gigs.
Tonight is one of the latter.
Where proper tours deliver efficiency and a better light show, with a full crew constantly on the road, festivals have bigger crowd and shorter sets, one-off gigs are surprises that can be everything from a warm-up for a big date or a live test for some new songs.

The Maccabees, known for raucous live shows and a fan base that is second only to the Libertines’ for loyalty, commitment and enthusiasm, came to Cambridge to do both.
With some summer festival dates coming and new songs recorded in the recent studio sessions, it was the right time to get back on the road with a low-key occasion.

Their 2007 debut, Colour it in, was one of the “interesting” brit-pop releases of that year. Since then the band has been touring and gathering aficionados all over the country (and beyond).

To define “interesting” is a difficult task and a matter of personal taste. When you leave the alt-folk scene out, today’s Brit-pop sounds all so similar that is quite challenging to recognise one band from the next. Few “interesting” bits may be enough to emerge.

Depending on which albums you have been listening to, you can find in The Maccabbes’ music anything from the Arctic Monkeys offbeat tempos, Bloc Party edgy guitars to the Futurheads’ repetitive choruses. As any British band, they have a bunch of 3-minutes songs composed on few chords played on shrill, clanging telecasters supported by an energetic upbeat rhythm. The formula doesn’t seem to have found an alternative to this, not yet, not in UK.

Luckily safe in the press pit I can verify, before the gig starts, that Maccabees fans are as savage as their reputation wants. The first 2 rows are a girls privilege. One hand grasps a mobile cameras, the other fights for a best spot while all together scream to call for the band on stage.
Security guys are well aware this is going to be “a hard day’s night”.

Live shows are the right place to have answers. You can actually see who is playing what, who has got the charm, how the audience react to the new songs or if it has had enough of the old. So let’s see what makes this guys “interesting” to the adoring fans?

Half a song on, Orlando Weeks staccato singing is definitely “interesting”. His murky voice stands out and wakes up my memories of a legendary Cure concert I saw back in the eighties. My Robert Smith nostalgia pair perfectly with the mysterious image he put on stage, holding on to his microphone to sing enigmatic lyrics.
What makes them different from the 80s Goth gods is a brighter, more optimistic approach to music. They may sing about feeling miserable, but in the end they are having a lot of fun. Listen to X-ray, one of their landmark songs, to have the perfect example for my disjointed theories.

“She sees the flutter in my heart
The spring is in my step
My empty head
Sees the lump build in my throat
The view in my minds eye
My empty heart, heart, heart, heart, heart

She’s got her suspicions
(X-ray x-ray x-ray x-ray)
Romantic intuition
(X-ray x-ray x-ray x-ray)
She sees through me with her
X-ray, x-ray, x-ray, x-ray vision

See me shifting in my seat
Pitter patter but off beat
My empty head
Sees the tongue kept in my cheek
My conscience leak
My empty heart, heart, heart, heart, heart

She’s got her suspicions
(X-ray x-ray x-ray x-ray)
Romantic intuition
(X-ray x-ray x-ray x-ray)
She sees through me with her
X-ray, x-ray, x-ray, x-ray vision

And with these powers
She can see
Through solid objects
Like you and me”

[X-ray – The Maccabees]

Felix White is the quintessential example of a rockstar pleased to be what he is. In the end rise your hand if you wouldn’t want to spend your twenties touring with a band, after-show-partying with loads of girls and recording songs with your mates in professional studios filled with any instruments you have only dreamt of.

His (left hand) guitar is also the proof that The Edge’s I will follow riff has inspired yet another guitarist.
Countless bands since U2 debut single built their style on that penetrating sound as easy to get as effective to deliver. With the U2 first 3 LPs just cleaned up and reissued expect more the Edge wannabes to come.

The second White brother on stage, Hugo, offers the additional guitar playing which elevates the band harmonies from basic to a more appealing, intricate -here we are again- “interesting” sound.
Texture is set for Orlando singing, which gets to its best on the soulful ballad Toothpaste kisses which, beyond the brilliant title, shows these guys can write very good song (and treat you with some Otis Redding-esque whistling).

“Cradle me
I’ll cradle you
I’ll win your heart
with a woop-a-woo
pulling shapes just for your eyes
so with toothpaste kisses and lines
I’ll be yours and you’ll be

Lay with me, I’ll lay with you
we’ll do the things that lovers do
put the stars in our eyes
and with heart shaped bruises
and late night kisses

[Toothpaste Kiss – The Maccabees]

Their hits scattered throughout the set are received by the crowd with an overwhelming uproar. It seems the fans are happier to listen to them than the band is to play this stuff once again.
Floating guys travel from the back towards the pit at a speed which requires some reinforcements sent to the frontline security guys. The Junction air-traffic control tower can’t cope with such an increased demand of landings.

The new songs, quite a few of them are on the setlist for the first time, to a non-Maccabee-expert as I am, sound as good as their classic stuff. A juicy anticipation for the long waited second release. Still early though.

Few days after this gig the Maccabees headlined the London Underage festival. A teenager event where the age limit is inverted. It goes from over 14 but you must be under 18.
Neither parents nor beer are allowed.

Before the gig, surprised by so many kids my friend asked an interesting question: “Is it because we are over thirty that we like Fleet Foxes?”. I must have looked disoriented which turned him into an even more interesting issue: “Can we write about music made by teenagers for teenagers when we are well beyond that explosion of hormonal excitement?”

I argue that even to write about a 2008 young band it is helpful to know a bit more about the last decades of rock. If you are 15 today you may be in tune with the music but it is quite improbable you have listened to Cure’s Pornography or U2’s boy to realize where this come from. Then I think the band itself is young and may not know what I think is inspiring them.

I felt older, probably is just a good excuse, I don’t know. My friend went like: “Good point”. We head back home, tired and sleepy. Looking at the mirror, I notice my white hair have increased, I won’t stop to go to live gig.

The Maccabees music is here [myspace] [website]

Photo Tip

Photographing Maccabees would be perfect with the help of a flash, which was obviously forbidden thus I played around with one of my favourite activity, use blur creatively. To freeze Felix White is an impossible mission, the only thing I could do is to shoot and shoot again, blindly, then develop the films and hope there are some good ones.

The best advantage of digital photography is the possibility to see your shots and improve them while you are working. Wonderful to learn quickly, fantastic if you are a reporter working on a multi image story. You can progress sequentially, you start with one image until you get it, then move to the next and so on until your reportage is complete.
On film the approach can only be parallel because you can’t stop taking one particular kind of image without knowing if you have it.

Digital concert photography doesn’t work like this, though.
I can recognise an experienced live photographer from a newbie from the attitude with the camera. Looking at the LCD every 2 shots in a press pit is a sign of inexperience.
It is a sign that you are not secure of the performance of your camera and need to check them, lights, ISO, whatever and also shows that you are not aware that the time slot goes very fast.

Three songs are quick and, more important, bands don’t do the same move twice. If you miss the moment the singer dives into the crowd, you missed it forever.

My suggestion to all digital photographers here is to think film! Imagine you have a roll in your camera, imagine you can’t see your shots and concentrate on taking the pictures, not viewing them. Anytime you sneak at your monitor you potentially miss an important snap.

You’ll be plenty of time to look at them afterward; you won’t have time to photograph that band until next tour.

~ by Valerio on August 25, 2008.

6 Responses to “The Maccabees”

  1. I read a good point within.
    Perhaps the youngest bands don’t know who or what is inspiring them.
    It could happen that while they’re in a pub, drinking some beer, they will listen to something like “No thugs in our house” and says “hey, another band copying our music!!! Let’s have a talk with the lawyer!”

  2. Ah ah ah DD, No Thugs In Our House, what a “paraculo”!
    If only it were true…

  3. Fantastic photo’s as ever!
    Don’t really know the Maccabees all that well, but might catch them this weekend at the Offset Festival.

    You buying the Courteeners yet?

  4. Awesome Photos! May I ask what Camera, Lenses, and Film you use for photographing concerts?

  5. hi,I found your blog trying to find out when/where is a THE MACCABEES´s concert, probably not soon as I´d like in Madrid, or wherelse in Spain. Here we are use to listen britpop but not so use to see the bands in action! May be that “inconvenience” -the distance- helps us to make the difference between so close bands coss we apreciate the chance and try to apreciate the details, probably the othres bands don´t have. And, as I could read, Maccabees seem to be very crazy. I really like them, they have a very strong point in Orlando´s way of singing, very sexy voice.

  6. Fantastic photo’s as ever!
    Don’t really know the Maccabees all that well, but might catch them this weekend at the Offset Festival.

    You buying the Courteeners yet?

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