The scene around the Newport Music Hall in Columbus, OH is familiar. This place is as stereotypical as a concert venue gets; old-timey, even. There’s a marquee above the door, advertising that day’s show on one edge and the upcoming six on the other. The doors are closed, covered in graffiti unpainted and untouched in the two plus years I’d been coming to shows here, almost like a point of pride. The line stretches long but not as long as I’d expected. Usually it trails up the sidewalk at least 400, 500 feet. Arriving 15 minutes before doors open, I expected to see more people. Considering Columbus is a haven for indie bands and hipster music, this was a surprise. The city’s second most popular radio station is an independent one, focusing on indie and alternative rock, a claim which even music hubs like Nashville cannot make. The music scene here makes shows like this popular, that and its proximity to one of the biggest, most sprawling, crawling, teeming campuses in the United States: Ohio State University. The University of 50,000 plus students makes for very crowded, vibrant shows at all the venues in town.
Tonight, I’m here to see the 2010 NME Best New Artist award winners Bombay Bicycle Club. Bombay, who is touring the country in support of their new record, ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ are no strangers to Columbus. They played here last year as well, acting as openers to their countrymen, Two Door Cinema Club. This time, they arrive as headliners, confident yet humble, a band that is clearly still enjoying the heights of this success and the adoration of the crowd without being jaded by it. Many indie bands find early markers to their success here. CD 102.5, the aforementioned independently owned and operated station, has a large following and promotes up and coming indie acts such as BBC. As such, many bands are particularly appreciative and vocal in Columbus, taking time out of their sets to thank the station and the city. Though I’m sure this kind of lip service happens everywhere, it is hard to ignore the genuine boost to numbers and word-of-mouth support generated by Columbus.
Before their performance came one of the great surprises in the world of concerts: a genuinely entertaining, talented opening act. Royal Canoe, a six piece from Winnipeg, served as a proper starting point, getting the crowd excited with their own brand of indie rock combining elements of Vampire Weekend, Silversun Pickups and the Flaming Lips. Canoe, featuring two (!) drummers, one on standard kit and other on a mix of electric and snares, create some beautiful sounds using a full range of modulation, effects pedals and sheer coordination that can be achieved when working with six total musicians. Derek Allard and Michael Jordan, their drummers, were the highlight of the set, producing some incredible staccatos and jazz beats. This relatively new, unheard of group, Royal Canoe are touring with Bombay for a few weeks and if their show last night was any indication, these guys could be making it big in the near future.
I’ll say this for the Newport and Bombay: They are prompt and prepared. Royal Canoe started at 8:00PM and finished at 8:47. Bombay Bicycle Club started not half an hour later, managing to keep the crowd lively and engaged. The equipment cleared, the rear projection screens dropped. The band came on and the rocking began. As every live music fan can imagine, there is an art and a science to the crafting of a set list. Some bands like to experiment while others like to stick to one thing. Some bands tailor their shows to their locale and others won’t make any changes for weeks at a time. BBC, now with four albums, has a great selection to choose from including both their hit singles as well as some quieter, in between songs. This is sort of a sweet spot for BBC and bands in similar situations, a 75 minute set where they can both squeeze in every big hit they’ve ever had while also taking the crowd to new places, beneficial both for those who are interested in the deep cuts as well as those who only knew the singles, going in.
Tying in with their heartfelt thanks and acknowledgement for Columbus and CD 102.5, BBC crafted a nostalgic setlist, focusing on earlier hits from their first two albums, ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ and ‘Flaws’. Given the support those albums received and the radio play they saw here, it was an appropriate and touching nod to the city and this crowd. In many places, you’d expect to hear the crowd roused for only the latest album, singing only the latest hits. This is understandable, considering BBC’s latest effort is the only one to crack the US charts. Columbus again proves the exception here, demonstrating a crowd going wild over BBC songs from 5 years ago. My friend with whom I attended the concert keyed me in to this fact, pointing out their earlier songs and showing just as much excitement at the tracks chosen.
Time was slipping, in a good way. The concert was progressing beautifully, featuring all the talents of the main four as well as their background singer, filling in for Lucy Rose on the parts featuring female vocals from ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow.’ The smooth progression and mesmerizing quality of the show was helped in a big way by the live artwork projected behind the band on five successive, round screens. Though many bands have live art in addition to the light show, BBC’s adoption of this technology added significantly toward the atmosphere and crowd immersion.
Bombay Bicycle Club’s Lighting and Set Designer, Squib, specified the technology used on this tour, a first for the band. The visual concepts displayed throughout the show tie into their album artwork. This artwork, commissioned from London-based design studio La Boca, moved in tune with the songs, displaying vibrant colors and engaging motifs that helped draw the crowd’s eye.
The show, brought together by Video Designer Adam Young and Animator Anna Ginsburg, prompted verbal acknowledgement and wonderment from people around me, a first for any accompanying video or artwork in my experience. The video was projected onto a canvas background consisting of five separate rings overlapping each other, as shown in the picture below. The animation featured stylized animals such as Cobras, Eagles and Elephants as well as dancing wireframe figures. The stop motion animation, owing its style to the work of photographer Eadweard Muybridge, accompanied the sounds and flavors of ‘So Long’ well, matching some of the eastern sounds such as on the new single ‘Feel’.
From moment to moment, song to song, the energy was palpable. The band members spent much of the show smiling from ear to ear, working with the crowd and drinking in the love that was pouring out. I don’t claim to be unbiased here, but I’ve seen shows in many cities and no one can match the energy of a Columbus show, especially for beloved acts like BBC. Their engagement was made clear too, as evidence by this tweet from the drummer Suren de Saram:
Columbus! Serious contender for best crowd of the north American tour so far. Thanks
— suren (@therealrennyd) May 2, 2014
Before I knew it, it was 10:20PM and the show was drawing to a close. Many of the favorites had been played and the crowd couldn’t get enough of this humble, joyful group. They left the stage for a short break, the crowd in total darkness going crazy, hoping for a few more. The screams for “encore, encore” were answered quickly, with the band coming out after two or three minutes to play two more tracks. The show finished with two of their biggest concert jams: ‘What If?’ and ‘Carry Me’. These tracks, stretched out a minute or two longer each with frantic, wild breakdowns, built the crowd up even further. The incredible light show, kaleidoscopic art show and palpable energy from the attendees combined to make this one of the best shows at the Newport this season.
As it always happens, each show in Columbus makes bands love us even more. If last night is any evidence, Bombay Bicycle Club will hopefully be bringing their relatable, intimate energy to Columbus with each new album and tour. When my friend and I were leaving the show from our sweet, second row spots, we had a lot of trouble getting out. Turns out the show had filled to capacity by the time the opener had gotten halfway through their set. Hundreds of people mingling, trying to catch sight and autographs from both bands at the merch table. I guess some nights, the crowd is a little slow to line up.