Streetlight Manifesto – U.L.U., London

By paul

Streetlight Manifesto
Saturday 4 April 2009
ULU, London
Support: The JB Conspiracy + Crazy Arm + Advantage

Just four months ago Streetlight Manifesto graced the UK with a two week tour up and down the country. Tonight marks the first of two UK dates tacked onto the end of a mainland European tour. There?s no real impetus behind this mini-tour: no new album to promote, no long term absence. Simply the band is just playing a couple of shows. What?s apparent though is that despite the speedy return the band is still a draw. Before doors a queue sneaks around the scholarly Bloomsbury neighbourhood and by the end of the night ULU is at near capacity. Not bad for an airport stop-over.

Adorned in a uniform red, white and black Advantage kicks off proceedings quickly shedding its former Grown At Home moniker. The personnel may have only undergone a few modifications but make no mistake, this is no longer the same band. A surprisingly keen early crowd is treated to a pacey set of pop orientated rock songs sprinkled with a brass section that is anything but skacore. With this being only the third live performance in this guise you?d expect things to be a little rusty and a little off kilter but it?s surprising how few such moments are. The band has settled and settled quick. There?s still work to be done (not just with the performance but with beefing the setlist out a little) but the reaction afforded by the crowd suggests the band is onto something. (3/5)

On this particular bill Crazy Arm sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. This is a good thing. One thing the UK scene could do with is a few more promoters wiling to mix a show up style-wise. Tonight it?s fair to say that the Plymouth quartet surprises a fair few of the ska-addicted audience with its blend of straight-up rock ?n? roll, southern rock and hints of country. It?s big, brash, hearty and most importantly, fresh. A new album is due out in June and anybody that?s heard it will wax lyrical about how good it is. Hopefully this will be the catalyst that sees this band push further into the public consciousness. (4)

The JB Conspiracy has a deceptively big following. At least it does in these parts. Tonight about three-quarters of the room is actively paying attention to the Guildford reggae/ska machine, not bad for a band that doesn?t have one of the higher profiles in the UK scene. Tonight?s 30 minute set is standard JB fare, a mixture of chilled reggae tones, spiky punk rhythms and some boisterous ska frenzy (thanks to a huge sounding brass section). The one criticism would be that at the moment, aside from the odd new track, the band is playing material that?s already had a lifespan of 18 months minimum. With new songs the band can only move up, and I?m guessing the collective members are champing at the bit to get on with a new recording. (3)

Streetlight Manifesto suffers a similar affliction, although you wouldn?t think so by the heroic worship the band receives from the fervent crowd tonight. It?s been nearly 18 months since last album ?Somewhere in the Between? dropped which means tonight?s set is very similar to that in December, and not all that far away, if not a little less truncated, from a February 2008 tour. For the devotees, which thankfully for the band are most of those in attendance, this means nothing but for anybody else it leaves a slightly stagnant feel about things.

On stage it?s hard to fault the New Jersey outfit. As far as third-wave ska goes this is a well established and near perfect outing. An argument can be made that, aside from Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake, Streetlight Manifesto is the biggest name in the genre. It?s also hard not to suggest that the band has a more ?grown up? feel to it than those aforementioned bands which means it?s pretty much sitting in a league of its own. Tomas Kalnocky spearheads the band through a usual suspects setlist geared at sating the immense crowd appetite. It?s been suggested that the band plays a lot faster live than on record, a suggestion that tonight may have some weight behind it. The result is a crowd enticed into a messy, frantic scurry of movement, from skanking to crowd-surfing by way off some rather curious dance moves. Try telling those 700 people it?s too fast.

Whilst there?s very little wrong with tonight?s performance unfortunately that stagnant feeling just can?t be shaken. Hopefully by the time the band returns to these shores in August there?ll be a more assorted setlist containing some new and fresh songs. To be fair though, it?s hardly likely to bother the fans if it?s the same set over again. (3).