English alternative Brit-poppers Maximo Park descended on Philadelphia, bringing their style of gruff, synth laced pop-punk to the legendary World Café Live for the next stop on their US tour in support of their latest release The National Health.
The evening started out with Indiana based Stagnant Pools, charged with attempting to set the pace of the night. However, it’s a tough job to prime up a crowd with their shoegazer/punk style of space rock. Each of the songs played gave not too subtle vibes from older bands (and probable influences) such as the Jesus and Mary Chain or Failure, where any one of the tunes would have sounded right at home within their sets. Although they were a good band aesthetically, it was a bit difficult to connect with the music/lyrics when you could understand them. Not bad, but definitely a poor choice to open up for a more energetic band such as Maximo Park
The next band was Zambri and was sonically a better choice for an opening act, with their heavily atmospheric blend of what could only be described as pop-tinged new wave/experimental rock engulfing the stage like a mist. It’s rare that bands with Zambri’s sonic complexity are good live, as the singer(s) and the band are often unable to stay on the same page. Thankfully, this was not the case with Zambri. The slightly rough, yet powerful dual vocals of sister singers Cristi Jo and Jessica went wonderfully hand in hand with floating electronics flowing through each song. Cuts like the darkly menacing “All You Maybes,” the robotic oddity of “Carry” and the sharp static beat of “ICBYS” are the best examples of their magic, not to mention being the highlights of their set. Being something of an electronic purist, the only issue with the set was that it felt like there was something lost in the translation from studio to live…something which happens often in the cases of bands using heavy electronics. Although they were fantastic live, the intense textures and percussive smashes that drive many of their songs simply weren’t as attention grabbing. That blame can be centered mainly on the house board mixer, who arguably might not have much experience with a band using such a staggeringly complex array of lush textures. They are a fantastic band live but ultimately, a lot of their sonic personality was lost in the mix.
This brings us to the headliners, Maximo Park. Although their music is much more fun and upbeat, (they sound something like an anti-Bloc Party) it wasn’t much easier to the get into their songs than it was to get in Stagnant Pools an hour earlier. As is often the case with bands that have more Brit-pop leanings, you either like it or you don’t. Which is not to say that they are a terrible act, in fact the highly melodic pop of “Going Missing” and the manically catchy and danceable “National Health” speaks largely to the contrary. It was obvious that the audience members were rocking out and having the time of their lives, it was just a bit hard to understand why. The set list never seemed to achieve the pacing that would completely grab hold of your attention and hook the melodies into the brain. For every dance track like the synth-led pleaser “Hip and Lips,” came subtler, more mellow rock songs like “The Coast is Always Changing” and “Take Me Home” (described as a peachy kind of lust for the 16+ by the singer), which knocked their momentum a bit off-balance. However, they did manage to end on a high note, bringing the set to a close with the rousing “Apply Some Pressure.” Not a great showing from MP, but they are definitely worth giving a second look to in the near future.
– Mark B.