It’s been nice watching the rise of Bombay Bicycle Club over a relatively condensed period of time. Their sold out show at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall was my ninth time seeing them. That’s not me being a super fan – it’s just the fact that they’ve jumped on just about every stage that would have them: basement in-stores, small clubs, radio sessions, opening slots, award shows, main-stage festival sets, etc.
So touring relentlessly: check. They’re also a band that’s been fairly steady in their output, releasing four albums over the course of six years. While their latest effort, 2014’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, was an atypical three-year wait between it and third record A Different Kind of Fix – the first three albums dropping in 2009, 2010, and 2011, respectively – it never seemed like Bombay Bicycle Club had disappeared from the sphere of indie rock. I’m not sure if this says as much about their touring schedule as it does of their capacity to write songs that continue to pop up on my iPod, but it does point to the band’s ability to separate themselves from contemporaries that release a couple of albums and then fade into obscurity.
To top it all off, they’re also clearly willing to take risks and seek out a new sound. Case in point: their four albums. The first, 2009’s I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose, was upbeat, guitar-heavy, and borderline punk: jittering and shaking with the expected energy of a band making their debut. Sophomore album, 2010’s Flaws, went off in an entirely different direction – trading upbeat numbers for an entirely acoustic album instead. Naturally, they followed that up a year later by embracing electronics and putting out A Different Kind of Fix.
This brings us to 2014’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, an album that gave Bombay their first number one on the UK charts. While it’s also heavy on the electronics and samples, the album sees the four-piece exploring world music and diversifying their instrumental palettes.
Schizophrenic? Perhaps. But it helps to explain why they’re a band well worth seeing every time: like their albums, their shows are constantly developing.
Take Saturday night’s sold out affair, where their new songs were shown with a fancy new light show – care of Two Door Cinema Club lighting designer Squib. The band, comprised of vocalist/guitarist Jack Steadman, guitarist Jamie MacColl, drummer Suren de Saram, and bassist Ed Nash, were joined on stage by vocalist Liz Lawrence and keyboardist Louie Bhose to help flesh out the complicated sounds from their latest release. There were requisite highlights from the previous albums – including the twitchy “Shuffle,” which was dropped early in their set much to the crowd’s delight – and also a complete showing of the new album.
The instrumental buildups generally landed well – Nash’s bass a highlight on “It’s Alright Now” and “Evening/Morning,” while dueling guitars from Steadman and MacColl took the spotlight for the Bollywood-inspired “Feel.” And as with the rest of the band’s confidence, Saram’s percussion has benefited over years of touring, sounding forceful and almost Genesis-like in set closer “So Long, See You Tomorrow.”
Steadman also deserves credit for his efforts as a vocalist. It’s not a voice that you can draw very many comparisons to, falling just this side of weird. He also sings quickly (see “Your Eyes” for evidence of that,) and it’s a wonder he doesn’t trip up over his own tongue.
Liz Lawrence also got her turn at the microphone, taking centre stage and vocal duties for the sweet “Home By Now” and the bouncy, festival-friendly “Lights Out, Words Gone.”
For all the glowing positives I can heap in their direction, there are still some things that could be improved and certainly some numbers that will never translate as well live as they will on record, no matter how hard they try. “How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep,” from A Different Kind of Fix, is one such example, its repetitive verses and complex layers of electronics and instrumentals unfortunately falling flat in comparison to the climax it manages to reach on the album. A shame – it really is a good song.
“Eyes Off You” was also a misstep, particularly on a Saturday night crowd. Steadman, seated behind a piano, delivered it earnestly and with all the necessary emotion. Unfortunately I mostly just heard drunk girls asking each other if they wanted to take selfies. If you’re wondering why Bombay left off Flaws material – this is why. There’s no way a soft, crooning number can or should compete with nearly 1,500 people. “Whenever, Wherever,” another new number (and one dedicated to Shakira,) had a similarly rough start thanks to its slow-burning nature, but thankfully picked up midway and managed to transfix the otherwise chatty audience.
“Luna” and “Always Like This,” paired later in the set, was a good match-up for the band – the former already finding favour with the crowd despite being new and the latter containing a tropical riff that will forever get stuck in your head. It was on this one that the night’s biggest crowd sing along occurred, the Toronto audience happy to oblige.
In the middle of their encore of the aggressive “What If” and the electronic-heavy “Carry Me,” Steadman teased the crowd with: “We’ll be back by the end of the year.” Even if their quick return means they’ll be touring the same material – they’re well worth seeing live. Having seen them nine times, I guarantee they always are.
Thanks to Live Nation Ontario for media access.