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The Northwestern – Captain’s Rest, Glasgow

TNWBlame Punxatawney Phil if you like, but Groundhog Day has overtaken deja vú as the phrase you use when you’ve seen it all before. It happens a lot in music, it being the carnivorous cyclical beast that it is. Everybody has influences. Everybody has heroes. Everything is derivative of something, pretty much.

What is odd about tonights gig, though, is that it isn’t just the audience who feel like they’ve been here before.

The Northwestern may be a new name on the scene, but in their previous incarnation as Hope of the States, they were once very hotly tipped indeed. They signed to Sony BMG, were being hyped in most outlets as the great new genuine British rock act, a Manic Street Preachers for the noughties. Debut album ‘The Lost Riots’ appeared high up in a lot of end-of-the-year polls. It was all on.

But, as these things often do, it petered out. Follow-up album ‘Left’, whilst still critically acclaimed, failed to sell. The band seemingly called it a day. Except they hadn’t. As frontman Sam Herlihy says ‘we’ve just spent three years writing tunes.’

It’s obvious simply from the equipment that this isn’t a band on their first run. There are Vox and Orange amps, rows of expensive guitars, banks of effects pedals that would probably do a U2 gig. And you wonder from the rather insipid performance if the Northwestern feel they’ve already done this part of the job, the small, half-empty shows to a curious but diffident crowd. That they’ve paid these dues already, and really, shouldn’t have to again.

From the crowds point of view, it’s as if someone flipped a switch and it’s 1995 again. This band sound like the second coming of Britpop. There’s some Ash here, some Oasis there, bits of Blur and Suede. And it’s fine. It’s tuneful, it has choruses, it’s just undermined by a faintly underwhelming sense of pointlessness. Again, the thought forms that after HOTS anthemic, spiky and uncompromising racket the band have simply decided to come up with a batch of tunes that will get them on the radio. Generic doesn’t even cover it.

Of course, there’s a lot of talent on-stage so it never really veers too far towards bad, just bland. ‘Telephones’ is a good tune, even if you feel every single guitar band in the mid-90’s could have written it, and there’s nothing too heinous. It’s a 45 minute set, and it’s fine. But it’s impossible to leave without thinking ‘three years? Really?’

So maybe this is the first, awkward steps of a band burned by the machine in the past and tentatively stepping back up towards it. Or maybe it’s a band whose moment has passed. Who knows. On this showing, if they come out of a radio near you, you won’t rush to switch it off. But you’ll be hard pressed to whistle it five minutes later.


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