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Hope of the States / Vega, London, Camden KOKO


ImageThursday night in Camden Koko was the time to test whether Hope of the States still have it or whether they are now down among the dull bands that populate the British landscape at present.


Arrive in time for support act Vega4. A 'classic' 2 guitars / bass / drums line-up and for about two songs I'm mildly interested, although the second song sounds a bit too close to Radiohead for comfort. But the rest of the set meanders along in that melodic way that so many bands now use to no effect. There's no whiff of surprise or danger here, just semi-catchy songs played well and sung in a way which doesn't even think about challenging the listener. I don't need to hear another band like this really. On myspace the band list their influences as Kraftwerk, Stereolab, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Arvo Part, The Postal Service, Rufus Wainwright, Fourtet and M83. What went wrong lads?


The first time I saw HoTS, supporting The Polyphonic Spree in Cambridge (Andy L present and correct) they impressed not only with their wig-out sonic noise approach but also with the sense of a band fully formed - matching brocade jackets, well designed product, expensive looking films, hand-tooled for the songs and projected behind the band. Tonight, the jackets have gone and the slide show is perfunctory, mainly replaced by live film of the band as they play tonight. It's clear that Sony have withdrawn some of the bank-rolling of a few years back - unsurprisingly given that HoTS have hardly set the world alight with record sales. Tonight they fail to sell out the 1,000 capacity Koko, which is pretty dire even for a World Cup night. Gallingly flyers handed out outside mention Razorlight - a band which I saw supporting HoTS at ULU a couple of years back - playing Wembley Arena. How has it come to this?


ImageIt is, of course, all about the noise. The reason I like HoTS and the mass of people don't is that they are not afraid to deal in noise in all its messy, unpredictable glory. The line-up remains refreshingly abnormal - three guitars, bass, violin, keyboards and drums with some brass brought in for a couple of songs - and the racket is still potentially hair-raising. At its peak, it rolls off the stage like a physical force. Lead man, Sam Herlihy, often a grumpy presence in the past, seems happy tonight, smiling a lot, chatting to the audience and thanking people all over the place. He's still not a great singer and some of the best moments of the night are instrumental, especially when they approach a Godspeed-like intensity, but - hey - he writes the songs.


Admittedly the songs that stand out tonight are those from the first album - this is my first exposure to the new stuff and single 'Sing it Out' is the only one that really enters my consciousness - but this isn't a band that has succumbed to blandness, even if their album turns out to be toned-down. Live they are uncompromised. Live, they will never sound like Vega4. Which is good to know.


Author: Keith Knight