A plethora of giddy teenagers outside the venue make me feel ancient but inside I feel quite smug.  I’m quietly confident that tonight in the tiny but charming confines of the Deaf Institute will be a triumphant success for JAWS and that I will have managed to take this all in prior to the wider media octopus clutching its tentacles around them.

JAWS caught my attention last year with the release of their Milkshake EP which, in common with their mates Peace and Swim Deep in the much-vaulted ‘B-Town’ scene (see I’m still hip you know), is dripping with schmaltzy feel-good indie and has echoes of The Cure and Ride.  The Birmingham four-piece are keen to play down the hype however and have even moved away from the area to distance themselves from it.

Their sunny debut offering Be Slowly was released last week arguably to less fanfare than their Brum counterparts – not that you’d guess that tonight, the buzz about the place is palpable, not least from the queue of excitable adolescents which snakes round to Oxford Road.  Despite the exuberance, first support Brawlers have an uphill task in provoking any sort of jumping around to their brand of thrash-punk.  Harry George Johns, former bassist in Dinosaur Pile-up, is not easy to ignore though and is promptly engulfed in a moshpit during their set closer.  At 8.30 this is quite a feat, and Brighton’s Fickle Friends do their utmost to follow it up.  Calling on contemporaries such as The 1975 and HAIM, and even late 2000s nu-rave dance collective New Young Pony Club, their upbeat shiny pop is given a cutting edge by a very accomplished vocal from the excellent Natassja Shiner.  Think Ellie Goulding but with talent.

The stage is all set for JAWS then but, disappointingly, they fail to live up to my expectations.  Don’t get me wrong, their debut is an exceptionally promising effort, but this did not translate well to the live circuit on this occasion, unlike their appearance at Sheffield’s Tramlines festival in July which left me wanting more. The clues are there when opening up with ‘Be Slowly’, a warm cosy blanket of a song which is easily their ‘In Between Days’.  But the guitars are rough around the edges, the drums are too loud and singer Connor Schofield is barely audible.  By the time they feel their way through the hypnotic album opener ‘Time’, the sound problems appear to have been overcome and Connor is comfortable enough to woo his female admirers down the front singing ‘One more look, you’re mine’.



The glacial synth intro and Cocteau Twins aura of ‘Swim’ create the feeling like you’re in the pool with them and personal favourite ‘Think Too Much, Feel Too Little’ has an infectious groove running through its core.  Normality resumes then, but there is still the nagging doubt that something is awry.  ‘Breeze’ from Milkshake continues the summer theme with its tropical riff and receives one of the best reactions of the night, but the middle of the set takes a bit of a nosedive as two other tracks from the same record fall a bit flat amid tales of sore throats and broken strings.  A sing-along to one of the weaker tracks on the album, ‘Surround You’ struggles to gain widespread participation and momentum is only regained in the two-song encore.  ‘NYE’ is their beautiful album closer which is fit for a film soundtrack and the aural assault of ‘Gold’ – the anthem which made everyone sit up and take notice last year – restores my faith, but only just.

Schofield’s voice is showing signs of wear and tear only a week into their album tour.  His drawl provides the perfect accompaniment to the swirling hazy soundscapes of Alex Hudson but is not the strongest and can lack depth in any case.  Be Slowly, maybe purposefully, showcases a greater range of material alongside their breezy crowd pleasers and manages to avoid sounding samey as a result.  New tracks ‘Home’ and ‘Filth’ are well-placed on-record and reveal a grungy, darker side to their craft, the former bringing to mind the chart-friendly side of Incubus, but tonight they end up injecting a much needed change of pace to what feels like a clumsily constructed set.

Is the feared hype machine to blame for this let-down feeling?  It could be, but I think the mid-point lull can be partly blamed on the decision to book-end the set with two of their big hitters.  JAWS are an exciting prospect but their strengths as a laid-back shoegaze surf pop outfit proved to be their undoing tonight with considerable slices of their output seeming frustratingly pedestrian when clubbed together.  I for one really hope they emerge out of the shadow of their B-Town buddies and fulfil their promise.  It will be fascinating to see which path they take next.

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Michael Whitehead

I think nothing of dropping everything and going out on a wet Tuesday night to go and see a band give it their all in front of one man and his dog. Maybe that's why I'm on here! I try and keep up with the vast underbelly of indie/rock/alternative talent that is criminally ignored but I'm also partial to a bit of early 80s new-wave and 90s shoegaze - someone has to be.