Responding to rock’s need for more hats, Maximo Park singer Paul Smith answered the call with John Steed-like effectiveness at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles on September 21.
The frontman brings a glam element to the solid foundation laid down by his four bandmates. This is a very working class kind of glamor. Despite his affable, self-effacing disposition, Smith, along with the rest of the band, conducts himself with an impassioned efficiency.
In particular, drummer Tom English, while far from being the hardest two-and-four in the business, offers understated crisp and staccato back beats, augmented with his exquisite yet inconspicuous flourishes, demonstrating the contained fire that rages and burns whilst propelling the Maximo train.
Despite the El Rey being a quarter full, and despite spending the night driving in from San Francisco, Maximo Park’s work ethic prevented them from dialing in this performance on the last night of their U.S. tour. Similarly, just because the audience was diminutive didn’t mean it was going to roll over and accept just anything, which made the blistering, perhaps premature opening trio of tunes a dicey gamble on the band’s part.
The Newcastle five-piece kicked off with a flurry and a fury. The first three songs were amongst their top hits: “Graffiti,” “The National Health,” and “Girls Who Play Guitars.” For me, “The National Health,” the title track of their latest album, is one of the best singles of 2012. Its breakneck speed and cutting commentary infectiously slash to the bone, and its rousing chorus immediately energized the rather meager crowd.
There was an understandable dip in audience enthusiasm after the starters, but the band used this predicament to their advantage, clawing their way back to surpass that early peak: no easy task, and one which was compounded when they took it upon themselves to also showcase their previous album, Quicken the Heart, because they were unable to tour it Stateside.
However, with focused resolve, they systematically stoked the crowd’s engagement back into a frenzy without pandering. New tracks “Lips and Hips,” “Write This Down,” and especially “Waves of Fear” fit in swimmingly with stalwarts “Our Velocity” and “Parisian Skies” to ramp up the atmosphere to the highest plateau of the night, one where the air was thinner, and where those in attendance were ecstatic to have made the trek.
By the set closer, “Apply Some Pressure,” – with its apt credo/chorus of “What happens when you lose everything/You just start again, you start all over again” – the band’s mission was complete, evidenced by the rapturous response they received.
Before launching into “Apply Some Pressure,” Smith explained that it was the last song, essentially the encore, because they preferred not to play the leave and come back encore game, but to just leave everything on stage, which they most certainly did.
They also successfully made the crowd follow suit, and what a glamorous suit—complete with hat—it was.
2. The National Health
3. Girls Who Play Guitars
4. Hips and Lips
5. Questing, Not Coasting
6. The Coast Is Always Changing
7. Write This Down
8. Going Missing
9. Reluctant Love
10. Books From Boxes
11. The Undercurrents
13. The Kids Are Sick Again
14. Take Me Home
15. Now I’m All Over the Shop
16. This Is What Becomes of the Broken Hearted
17. Parisian Skies
18. I Want You to Stay
19. Our Velocity
20. By the Monument
21. Waves of Fear
22. Apply Some Pressure
Review and pictures by Chris “Gutter” Rose