Gig review: Birds In Flight @ O2 Academy 2, Islington, 20/01/2012

(This is a review for New Reviews, also available here: http://www.new-reviews.co.uk/?p=5473)

Southampton band Birds In Flight have to eat a bit of a broken glass sandwich tonight. Opening an unsigned showcase at 6:30pm is rarely exciting let alone at the joyless O2 Academy 2, Islington. (A can of Carlsberg Export is £4.40. Chewing gum is confiscated at the door.) But kicking off the night with ‘Wings’, they chug away with whoas and harmonies so wide they belie the venue’s narrow floor; next, straight into ‘Heroes’, its terrific disco middle section – a fine opening pair, a swift call to arms.

The immediacy of their sound is remarkable. There is an almost glib simplicity. One guitar, one vocal, a giant drum line. In fact, drummer Glenn Hampson is a revelation, the sheer volume of his snare strikes is aurally gutting, thrashing himself about, something akin to Chad Smith in Bon Jovi. Theo McDonald’s throbbing bass and sharp showmanship perfectly counters Luke Allen’s cautious guitar, his chunky palm mutes and seamless right hand. ‘Speak Up’ and ‘Time’ are tougher, smarter and more punishing than their studio versions on EP A Hand To Hold (2011), a nod to Paramore and Incubus.

Their sound is obvious but lean, and cutely nonchalant, like a Hemingway novel. There is no fat here, no soggy leftovers. A few times, this unfussiness is too clear. There is a tendency with some songs to follow a template: verse, chorus, repeat, middle breakdown, chorus – but this is raw output, pure charge. They are brutally casual – their persona manifestly embodied by vocalist Jess Gibbons. She is funny, a little awkward, shy, but her voice is staggering, deeply frightening. Not one bum note, not one wonky creak or croak: she is power, animated. It is incredible stuff. Her Joni Mitchell, middle-distance stare breathes guts into too-green lyrics. Tonight they soar, her voice colossal.

By the time we reach flagship track ‘Biggest Mistake’, the crowd are soundly beaten. This is a demon tune. The chorus is flat-out, undiminished rock vim, the melody so furiously catchy that there is not a head unbanged or foot untapped anywhere in the room. Gibbons is liberal and flirtatious with her pauses, gluing her vocal line to Hampson’s drums, letting the chorus smother you. There is a comfort here that few band members have with each other. A little more intrigue, a few more shrewd songs to show off their musicianship, a bigger stage, a lucky break – and they could be something.

★★★★