Live review: Snow Patrol and Rams’ Pocket Radio

Snow Patrol at V Festival Chelmsford 2009 by Mark Holloway
Snow Patrol at V Festival Chelmsford 2009 by Mark Holloway

Chris Eustace heads to the HMV Forum to see how Snow Patrol are evolving, while drawing on new blood, Rams' Pocket Radio.

Peter McCauley, a.k.a. Rams’ Pocket Radio, appears to be half frontman, half pilot as he sits down at the front of the stage at the HMV Forum, surrounded as he is by three keyboards. Augmented by a full band as he opens for Snow Patrol, it’s a lot more visually striking than you’d think as he pummels away at the keys.

Having played at Belsonic and grabbed a slot on the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury earlier this year, RPR appear to take much from Lisburn-born McCauley’s stints in both the National Youth Orchestra of Northern Ireland and a post-hardcore band, as intricate piano and chiming guitar attempt to outdo each other throughout.

While initially coming off like Guillemots at their most FM-friendly, McCauley’s voice is the curveball, bringing more to mind Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional and particularly piano-led emo popsters Something Corporate, on the likes of ‘Friendship Fails You’ and ‘1+2’. It’s an engaging hybrid and the enthusiasm onstage is infectious.

The Patrol fans seem particularly enamoured with a crashing ‘The Sickness, The Taste’. With the effect akin to three Coldplays turning up to do ‘Violet Hill’ at once, it’s a canny change in mood.

Ironically, it’s the recent single ‘Dieter Rams Has Got The Pocket Radios’ that takes things a bit more leftfield, as the tempo fluctuates and piano flourishes duck and dive like a kid trying to play his recital after three cans of Red Bull. It sets things up nicely for the nagging refrain of closer ‘We Can Be Invisible’, which seems tailor-made for the radio.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Rams’ Pocket Radio will be allowed to develop without the quirks getting knocked out of the music, but McCauley definitely has an intriguing prospect on his hands. Cool? Possibly not. Fun? Yep. Good? Definitely.

Such an assessment can probably be used for the headliners too. It’s strange to think that you could walk around with a Snow Patrol t-shirt on 10 years ago and probably be thought the indiest of the indie. If you’d said back then that by the end of the decade, they’d be one of the biggest bands in the country, you’d have been laughed at for months on end, but this show at the Forum is as intimate as it gets for them these days.

Not that they’ve particularly stripped things back tonight, arriving as they do in a hail of spotlights and going straight into ‘Open Your Eyes’. ‘Take Back The City’ is next, with the first taster from their forthcoming new album ‘Fallen Empires’, ‘Called Out In The Dark’. While slightly more groove-led than their previous work, with the odd nod to the likes of MGMT in the chorus, it’s more welcome evolution than revolution.

Main man Gary Lightbody is on fine form tonight though, whether it’s cringing at the sight of a banner hanging from the balcony reminding him of a recent declaration that the new record will bring out the band’s “inner dance monkey”, taking a blow to an intimate part of the body following a walk down to the crowd as gracefully as it’s possible to do, or recounting how a front row  competition winner at last night’s acoustic session passed out while they were playing, he’s enjoying being able to hold court at closer quarters than usual.

‘Run’ is dispatched early on, buffeting three new songs, with RPR bassist Shauna Tohill returning to the stage to duet on a heartbreaking ‘Garden Rules’ (she’ll also sing Martha Wainwright’s parts on ‘Set The Fire To The Third Bar’ later on), while a mellow ‘Lifening’ (where Lightbody dreams of having “Ireland in the World Cup…either North or South”) is preceded by a frankly stunning version of ‘Eyes Open’ track  ‘Make This Go On Forever’, a stomping escape from the band’s comfort zone and the highlight of the set.

The biggest singalong is, of course, reserved for ‘Chasing Cars’. It’s a genuine moment here and despite it being on the radio every five minutes, and played on every “emotional” moment on every TV show ever made, live, there’s no denying its pull.

The main set is confidently finished up with two new songs: newest crowd favourite ‘This Isn’t Everything You Are’ and ‘Fallen Empires’, where the Patrol appear to have spawned the new genre “epic mandolin techno” – who says they’re not innovative?

As the band encore with ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Just Say Yes’, it looks as if the new record will succeed in nudging the band in a slightly more electronic direction, but keep the ballad-lovers onside. It’s a difficult balancing act, but one that should see Snow Patrol still on the upper reaches of the big outdoor bills come next summer. Make sure you keep an eye on their friends too.