Last year at California’s Coachella Festival, Win Butler of Arcade Fire took some flack for bemoaning in front of a crowd of thousands the “fake VIP bullshit” that was playing there, and gave a “shout-out to all the bands still playing actual instruments at this festival”. It was the sort of comment that can make one of the 21st centuries most thrilling acts look like your grandma. But sometimes, when bands like The Milk come along, working their instruments like defibrillators and breaking down into jams in the midst of perfectly formed pop songs, you can see where they were coming from.
London band The Milk toured this autumn of the back of their second record, Favourite Worry; a fantastic stylistic switcheroo in which the soul flavoured vocals that bewitched their fantastically pop-y debut Tales From The Thames Delta, overcame the music whole; bringing in smooth jams, and in its rowdier moments, taut jazz crescendos, rather than chart friendly bombast. Apparently the sultry sounds of Bill Withers, The Isley Brothers and Isaac Hayes played in their Isle of Wight studios during the recording process, and it’s seeped front and centre into their new music.
The four-piece rocked up to Bodega looking like a jazz quartet; Dan Legresley on lead guitar donning the atypical tweed flat cap, Luke Ayling on bass sporting locks and pendants. It was through the punch of Mitch Ayling’s drums though, and the flare of Rick Nunns vocals, that brought the ensemble together. Starting with the fiery ‘Picking Up The Pieces’ from their debut record, The Milk played through a taut set of soul ballds and pop perfection.
“The Milk work their instruments like defibrillators, breaking down into jams in the midst of perfectly formed pop songs”
Nunns’ voice is an absolute powerhouse. Often stood at the mic, veins popping from his neck, his vocals are Shirley Bassey-equse; not once does he falter a note the whole hour through. The band has said in promo for the tour that they become frustrated by bands that don’t play their songs through in the studio, because if you can’t play it live; you can’t play it at all. It’s a very Arcade-Fire sentiment, but it translates to some fantastic and impassioned live performances here. The bass is funky and low, the drums punchy and crisp.
Their keen appreciation for the live setting doesn’t make them any less keen to let loose either; the highlight of the night comes in the fantastic new single ‘Don’t Give Up The Night’. On record it was thrilling but live, with a drum solo in the middle and even deeper escalations, it finally turned the gig into a party; fans young and old shaking the cobweb lose at last. It finished to deserving, rapturous applause. Similar treatment was given to ‘What Did I Do To My Love’, a song on which jazz-fusion vocals clearly played an influence, and to which Nunn begun with a wry smile saying “I feel like we know each other now, so we’re just gonna have some fun with this one.”
Nunn certainly knew how to work the crowd; despite having nowhere near the cultural impact they should have, their fan base is clearly a dedicated one. During ‘All I Wanted Was Danger’ the band stop the music and Nunn holds the mic out to the crowd to finish the song for what should be way too long; through the verse, pre-chorus and chorus, but most know every word, and when he finally rejoins, it’s worth the wait. Some may go home dissapoitned; one person shouted “Chip The Kids!” after every song, and they still didn’t play it (a good move, it’s probably their cheesiest moment) while the man beside me finally answered the age of question: who goes to a gig just to see the band do a cover? Because, pissed out his nut, during every interlude he’d shout “Cover! Do a cover!”, and emitted loud groans when what they started playing one of their own actual songs.
I for one am glad The Milk played their own music though, because it’s excellent. Closer ‘Broke Up The Family’ proved the dynamism of their talent; starting with a taste of what their very first track might have sounded like had it been recorded as part of their soulful second LP before morphing into the feisty original; to which the whole room erupted. All four players put in an impassioned, soulful set; one of the very best I’ve seen in Nottingham so far.
Liam Inscoe – Jones
Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham’s IMPACT Magazine.