HOLLY STEVENSON: ‘Despite being on the soundtrack of almost every American teen drama you can think of, Joel Pott’s song to his prematurely born daughter still retains all of its power.’

Alice Gold Athlete Holly Stevenson Indie Music pop review The Junction

22nd November, The Junction, £16.50


We thought we had arrived at the wrong gig. The Junction was packed as usual, but not with the usual crowd of 15 year old indie kids bedecked in TopShop. Instead, we were comfortably the youngest there, ‘comfortably’ meaning by about four decades.

I was still frantically checking my ticket to see whether it actually said ‘Tea dance’ when Alice Gold sauntered onto the stage. She often complains that she is labelled as ‘a girl with a guitar’, but to be honest; that’s just what she is. Her stage presence was compelling, her blonde curls looking like a lion’s mane as she stomped and purred through her set, ending with her new single Orbiter, a psychedelic dance tune that channels not a little Hendrix and Zeppelin. All good stuff, but she needs to work on her onstage repartee. ‘I found a great tree to jump into the river from’ was just faux-kooky, and met by an embarrassed silence.

Veteran indie band Athlete’s latest offering, Black Swan, is named after Nassem Taleb’s theory that something that was once thought to be impossible could be found later to exist. This theory seems pretty appropriate for Athlete: following the success of 2005 album Tourist, they pretty much sank from the UK music scene without trace. Well, good news folks: impossible as it seems, Athlete fans do exist in 2010. And, they know all the words. From the opener, You Got The Style, to the meltingly beautiful closer Half Light, there was no moshing or jumping, just hushed admiration. The crowd were like a mass of seven-year-olds in front of their all-time superhero.

Halfway through the set, the lead vocalist Joel Pott asked: ‘we played our first gig here ten years ago. Anyone see that one?’ and several people cheered. Sincerely. It was a refreshing change from the vapid apathy or the screaming frenzy which often dominates gigs; I got the vibe that this was the only gig most of the audience would go to this year. Hits such as El Salvador, Twenty Four Hours and Corner of My Baby’s Eyes were performed with a confidence and delight that was palpable: proof that you can’t replace experience with hip-breaking coolness.

On paper, Athlete’s music has a schizophrenic quality, veering between electro indie-pop and swelling ballads of Coldplay proportions. Yet in performance, energetic songs such as Tokyo and the gleeful Back Track ensure that the lighter-waving ballads never got mawkish and sentimental. The pinnacle of their performance was their biggest hit, Wires. Despite being on the soundtrack of almost every American teen drama you can think of, Joel Pott’s song to his prematurely born daughter still retains all of its power.

Athlete are preaching to the converted. But with their tight performances, banter that was so friendly we could have been in a pub and their obvious joy in just playing music, they deserve to have a few more disciples. As Wires shimmered to a close, Joel stood aloft, arms raised and shouted: ‘Can you feel the love, Cambridge?’

Yes,’ I wanted to shout back, ‘I am a believer!’