“Ok, this next song is going to sound very Russian, and when we start it will become very clear why,” explains Barry Hyde, with the same mischievous grin as The Grinch when he’s slinking around Whoville, stealing all of the Christmas decorations.
The lead singer of The Futureheads has successfully captured the attention of the crowd packed into the tiny Pure Groove Records shop and cafe. It’s a quiet Thursday afternoon in London, and a mixture of students and young, suited professionals on their lunch breaks are gathered to catch a rare, free acoustic performance of the normally raucous Sunderland-based indie rock quartet.
As the group launches into “Struck Dumb” from their newest album, The Chaos, which was released in the UK on April 26th, the Russian reference becomes very clear indeed. Without the aid of electric guitars, band members Ross Millard and David ‘Jaff’ Craig harmonise “ra da-da!” sounds–making sure to heavily roll the R’s–and occasionally display Russian-inspired dance moves, alternately squatting and popping back up with flailing leg kicks and arm thrusts. The only thing missing from the scene is black, furry hats and shiny, red voluminous trousers.
Hyde joins in by singing, “Misery, is a little line, of a little dash, it’s a subtraction sign.” Meanwhile, drummer Dave Hyde sits off to the side, providing a rhythmic beat without the aid of a drum kit.
With influences ranging from new wave and post-punk greats like Fugazi, XTC, Devo, and Gang Of Four, The Futureheads normally perform upbeat-yet-aggressive sets that often result in moshing, crowd-surfing, and pogo dancing. But despite not having the usual array of electric instruments, amplifiers, smoke machines, and brilliantly-coloured stage lights, their performance doesn’t feel any less exciting.
Here, the excitement comes from admiring the power of their voices and poetic lyrics, like “Every time I listen to my heart/It’s like a cartwheel in my head but my legs are made of lead” from “Heartbeat Song.” This is The Futureheads stripped down to their rawest elements.
And, today, those elements consist of one part concert, one part variety show–the band members seem to be in a jovial mood, joking around with each other and encouraging crowd interaction. It’s not every day that a band turns one of their songs (“Hounds Of Love”, from 2004’s self-titled debut album, in this case) into an audience participation game. Millard’s side of the crowd has been instructed to sing the “OH oh-oh”s, while Craig’s side of the crowd has the dueling “oh-OH!” melody.
It’s here where it becomes clear that this isn’t your ordinary British indie rock band, with generic melodies and a pretentious attitude–the band’s vocals alone intertwine in perfect harmony, almost like a throwback to a-Capella barbershop quartets from the turn of the 20th century.
Although the audience members may not possess the same level of vocal talent as the band, hearing the entire shop singing along to “Hounds Of Love” is a testament to the band’s showmanship. Moments like this make you remember why you bother going to shows in the first place. It’s easy to sit back and listen to an album on the bus, while working, or at a club, but without the smoke and mirrors of studio productions, some bands just can’t cut it live.
But whether they’re playing an intimate acoustic set, or performing at Europe’s largest festivals, The Futureheads have consistently proven that they can do more than cut it live–especially with the occasional, impromptu kalinka dance moves.