Bombay Bicycle Club has been one of those bands that has managed to pack a whole lot into what seems like a relatively short period of time. Of course, their near-decade long tenure as a band is far from “short”, but it’s easy to think of them as newbies to the game thanks to their relative youth. It also isn’t quite fair to pin that designation on them either, given the term “newbie” might connote room for improvement or a need for more time on the road or in the studio.
For the English four-piece however, their career has brought to fruition a rich back catalogue four albums deep and a stirring live show that gets increasingly difficult to top with every one they play. I suppose this is all just a long way of saying: Bombay Bicycle Club is very, very good.
In Toronto for the second time this year for another go-around of February’s Mercury Prize nominated So Long, See You Tomorrow, the band sold out the Opera House to an all-aged crowd. It was admittedly a step down from the room they were originally booked for – tickets to the cavernous Kool Haus apparently not selling as well as one might have expected. But venue change aside, it gave fans a chance to see Jack Steadman, Ed Nash, Jamie MacColl, and Suren de Saram in a much more intimate setting.
Opening act Luxley brought up the energy in the room, vocalist Ryan Gray spending more time in the crowd than on stage. It was a fun set, though more for its energy than for its music. While Gray’s stage presence was undeniably solid, Luxley still has ways to go with its live music – the vocals in particular leaving something to be desired. Part of the problem may have been through no fault of their own, though. Luxley’s guitarist, Gray explained, hadn’t been allowed to cross that pesky Canadian border and so their bassist had to do a switch-a-roo. Had they been a four-piece instead of three, perhaps the entire dynamic would have changed.
On the other end of that was Milo Greene, who brought rich harmonies and pleasant vocal timbres to the stage but seemed to lack a connection to the audience. Chock it up to on-stage maturity or the playing of new material from an album due out early next year (the follow-up to 2012’s self-titled), but their agreeable guitar-pop didn’t hit as hard as it should have. The five-piece has a lot going for it, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not breaking any moulds and it could be that the Of Monsters and Men popularity ship has long since sailed. While big, rousing choruses on singles such as “1957” and “What’s The Matter” helped remind me of Milo Greene’s charm, it would have been nice to get something more from them – like a reason to look forward to their sophomore record.
By the time Bombay Bicycle Club got to the stage, anticipation was understandably high amongst the crowd who had waited in the pouring rain that day. They wouldn’t be disappointed, either, with BBC pulling together both a fantastic sound and solid stage presence and wrapping it all in a fancy light show. Whether it was singles from their 2009 debut I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose, more electronic offerings from 2011’s A Different Kind of Fix, or any eight of the 10 recorded tracks on So Long, See You Tomorrow, there was plenty to cheer for.
Steadman has the sort of distinctive delivery that’s instantly recognizable – when you hear it, you can place it right away. It helps to define the band’s sound and allows Bombay Bicycle Club to take greater instrumental risks, whether it’s world music samples on their newest release or more country-styled hoe-downs from 2010 sophomore record Flaws. They’re able to play with genres without fear of losing their identity.
Steadman introduced “Home By Now” as a song the band was filming a video for in Toronto for the past two days, and it brought forth the slower portion of the set. I’m still not entirely convinced piano ballad “Eyes Off You” works in a live setting, especially against a chatty crowd – but I can understand the need to slow things down mid-set, especially in the lead-up to the more punk leanings of “Evening / Morning” and Nash’s wicked bass line that kicks the whole thing off. Again, it all served as evidence of their diverse back catalogue.
They also managed to bring in a cover of Robyn’s “With Every Heartbeat”, a fun addition that turned them as close to a funk band as they’ll ever get (which is, admittedly, not very close at all.)
Bombay Bicycle Club capped off their hour and 15 minute set with “Carry Me”, the lead single from their latest album. It was a testament to how well the record and the band has grown in the space since they last played Toronto, a mere five months ago.
It’s hard to want more from the English band – they do everything so well. But knowing their work ethic and their ability to craft catchy, noticeable, and distinctly BBC-esque melodies, their show at The Opera House just left everyone all the more excited for their next visit to Toronto. Very, very good indeed.