Maximo Park
@ Leeds University

I’ve seen Maximo Park play a couple of times before. Once where they left Kaiser Chiefs with a tough act to follow and once where they pulled out all the stops having to follow Artic Monkeys. Seems like they flourish in adversity, upping the energy levels but not giving in to pure volume.

Now, with two albums worth of material (and the thousands of B-sides they turn out), I wonder what they will do. They open with Graffitti – the old crowd pleaser. The band walk out and start playing, leaving Paul Smith to appear last. Rather than his accustomed bright jackets, he’s in a black frock coat and bowler hat, looking like a cross between Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork orange and Jerry Sadowitz. It’s maybe a signal that there is more to the band than the leaping front man. Throughout the gig Lukas Wooler is visible – jumping about, sometimes roaming the stage and dancing with his hands fixed to his keyboard as if he has his hands electrically welded to the National Grid and is doing the St Vitus Dance. Paul is chatty and explains songs, like the backdrop to Russian Literature. He does the customary jumps and scissor kicks in the usual frantic controlled explosion of energy.

Having pumped up the production for the second album to make it more rock, they seem to feel obliged to do the same live, losing some of the sparky fire in the rock bluster. It’s not helped by the poor mix and generally crappy acoustics of Leeds University. Duncan gurns on guitar but seems content to play second fiddle to the keys / singer combo. Lukas is pulling shapes and faces. At one point he bounces off the keys and into Paul, who has to shove him back out of the way. Bass and drums are in a solid thump-thump lockstep, rock-style, that fails to distinguish itself as tunes ride atop it. It’s a lot less limber than the studio sound.

Leeds does the customary ‘Yorkshire, Yorkshire’ chant to bait the Maccams as Coast is dedicated to the Tyke haunts of Scarborough, Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay. The Duracell bunny that is Paul introduces the much-loved A19 as maybe the first song about Sunderland. A few newer songs inspire less excitement before the crowd goes daft for Apply Some Pressure and it occurs to me that Maximo Park are about the songs and the dynamics not the power and volume they seem to be after here. Still, two young women behind the soundboard are doing moves practiced at home and singing the words to each other.

The penultimate song, Parisian Skies, strikes me as a bloody good song with a strong sense of the personal. It occurs to me that Paul looks more smiley tonight, less clever, less knowing. ‘Missing’ becomes a singalong to Paul conducting from a perch on top of a monitor. Finally the encore ends with Limassol highlighting the weakness that the Max’s need to attend to – its swoop has been replaced with bluster. Being a rock band doesn’t suit Maximo Park as much as the spiky pop of their records and, for the first time, I am left feeling underwhelmed.

Ross McGibbon