“Would you mind if we played one off our new album for you?” Jan Scott Wilkinson asks politely to a relatively intimate, sold-out Yorkshire crowd.
Brighton’s British Sea Power have just released their ninth record, Let the Dancers Inherit the Party; their cinematic brand of widescreen indie rock, with pastoral strings and astral synths, remains pleasingly located in the 80s-hued art-punk templates of Ian McCulloch and Win Butler. Yet, at their performance at Leeds’s Church venue in support of the record, their lush sound drags all too often as they toy with self-indulgence.
Microphone stands and risers furnished with ferns and foliage aside, the playful anarchic spirit of BSP’s live shows is strangely absent for the majority of the set; instead, the most pleasure can be found in fresher material.
Recent single Bad Bohemian, following polemic opener Who’s in Control, is rattled off in stirring new wave fashion; the burnished guitar pop of International Space Station burbles along agreeably.
The melancholy lament of Don’t Let the Sun Get in the Way leans heavily on Martin Noble’s wildly intensifying fretwork, and the stately epic glide of Want to Be Free is both inky and fatalistic in heady fashion.
But these cuts are arranged across the show in an uneven fashion, and the pacing of BSP’s performance feels stilted. A thunderous Atom, all wall-of-sound and staccato feedback, feels like a crescendo called too early in the night, whilst the moderately chaotic Tugboat is almost a chore to get through.
No matter how immaculately rendered songs such as the U2-gilded arena-pomp of What You’re Doing and Praise for Whatever are, their drama is stripped away by a lack of focus, replaced by a sedate detachment that feels strangely foggy.
This spell is broken across the final quarter; the brimstone of No Lucifer, the soaring intensity of Waving Flags, an atmospheric flight through The Great Skua. Across 15 minutes, the sextet come to life.
When they emerge for the encore, clad in tight silver bodysuits, it feels as if the BSP of old has walked into the room – and with a howling The Spirit of St Louis, order feels restored, with the group evoking their stage reputation of old.
British Sea Power’s live prowess may have ebbed to an uncharacteristically middling point; but they still remain only a dancing bear away from joyous entertainment value.