Basked in lambent green light, Spector swan onstage, evidently wondering what to make of this evening’s crowd. Partway through the set frontman Fred Macpherson notes the O2 Academy is only two thirds full. Whether this is because it’s a Wednesday evening or because Spector’s reach is limited to a small group of ardently devoted fans, it’s not entirely clear. Regardless, those of us in attendance do our best to make up for the absentees, throwing our hands up in the air and shouting emphatically along to ‘Celestine’: “CELESTINE MY SELF ESTEEM IS AT AN ALL TIME LOW / I’M HOLDING ON WITH BOTH HANDS BUT I’M READY TO LET GO”.
Maybe there’s something in the water down here in Oxford, but as an avid gig goer from the north of England, immediately I’m struck by how polite the audience is. Firstly, people actually listen to the support acts, who are Spring King and Billy Ryder Jones. Back home people tend to congregate around the bar until five minutes before the headline act is due on stage, indifferent to the idea that they could discover a new favourite band. In marked contrast, here in Oxford there’s a substantial swarm of bodies clustered around the stage from the time the doors open, and people are bopping their heads in time to the beat, clapping politely between songs. People chat to their friends, but in a hushed whisper. Spring King and Bill Ryder Jones both seem appreciative of being shown much respect, but their music doesn’t do anything for me – it’s too brooding, too sombre.
Later in the night a girl taps me on the shoulder during the rambunctious ‘Chevvy Thunder’ and asks if I’d like to help her form a circle pit. Back home in Sheffield, there’s no such forewarning – you’re grabbed, pushed and shoved whether you want to be or not, and you emerge from the gig gasping for air a sweaty, bruised mess. Tonight I’m actually able to enjoy the music, and even though I’m stood at the barrier my ribs aren’t being crushed every time I breathe. There’s no crowd surfing, there’s no violence. It’s all rather PG 13.
The set comprises of a combination of staples from Spector’s raucous debut, Enjoy It While It Lasts, and their synth-laden sophomore effort, Moth Boys, which was released back in August this year. I expected the evening to be dominated by their more recent release – this is the Moth Boys tour, after all – but there is a surprising balancing act going on. This is in the band’s favour, as tracks fromEnjoy It While It Lasts are generally more upbeat. Everything from the band’s debut goes down well with the audience; ‘Friday Night, Don’t Ever Let It End’ gets even the more reserved audience members singing along and pure bedlam ensues with the anthemic constructions ‘Chevvy Thunder’ and ‘Twenty Nothing’.
Although more conceptual and therefore arguably ‘cleverer’ than its predecessor, the band’s follow-up record is notably more reserved. This translates to a more subdued live performance. Whilst ‘Kyoto Garden’ feels out of kilter with the bands usual exuberance, when it is played live it clearly demonstrates Spector’s propensity for poetry. The spacey synths and a higher pitched vocal than fans are used to from Fred creates a spacey, disconnected feel. You wouldn’t be blamed for having a temporary existential crisis whilst listening to it. Standouts from Moth Boys include ‘All The Sad Young Men’, a melancholic call to arms with one of the catchiest choruses going: “I don’t wanna make love / I don’t wanna make plans / I don’t want anyone to wanna hold my hand”, and ‘Stay High’, in which Macpherson reels off a list of “the ways that we show our love”, noting set menus and two for one codes as forms of 21st century affection.
There’s been enough time since its release for fans to fully familiarize themselves with Moth Boys,therefore there’s not much variation in audience participation over the course of the evening. The only perceptible dip in enthusiasm is when ‘Reeperbahn’ gets aired; this is perhaps understandable as it was present only on the deluxe edition of Moth Boys – afterwards, Macpherson jokingly notes that only people with glasses (now I think of it, there are quite a few Fred lookalikes dotted around the venue) seem to know the words. One low point isn’t bad at all, though. The band don’t bother with the familiar encore rigmarole, instead they must be praised for making the most of their slot and giving fans as much as possible. This is typical of Spector; they are definitely an exemplary band who simply do what they love in front of people who love them.
Until next time Spector – you know I’ll never fade away.