The Oxford 02 Academy on a Sunday night in the Easter Vacation: local school kids, middle-aged rockers, entertainment-starved grad students and finalists. This was the disparate crowd that greeted The Pigeon Detectives on the eve of the release of their third album Up, Guards And At ‘Em!
Faced with the difficult task of debuting new tracks to an audience casting wary glances at each other, the only answer for The Pigeon Detectives was, of course, full-throttle Northern bombast. Not exactly complex, the band’s themes are pretty simple boy-meets-girl stuff; girl is going out with somebody else, boy doesn’t actually like girl that much, boy and girl have an embarrassing age difference. But it is this simplicity that really underlies the band’s strengths, particularly as a live act. Unlike contemporaneous Yorkshire bands, The Pigeon Detectives aren’t very Brooklyn-trendy (The Arctic Monkeys) and haven’t recruited any childhood heroes (The Cribs). Seven years since forming, The Pigeon Detectives are still purveyors of high-energy, bolshie attitude songs about boy-girl angst, but they do this to perfection. They, therefore, took to the stage in Oxford armed with infectious riffs, chant-along choruses and confrontational lyrics. And when the bouncing drums of Romantic Type kicked in, it was impossible to resist.
The set wisely began with some old favourites from 2007’s Wait For Me and its speedy successor Emergency (2008), before introducing any new material. Then third album opener She Wants Me got off to a false start with frontman Matt Bowman holding up his hands, taking full responsibility: “If I mess up the lyrics again you can come up here and beat me up!” I’m not sure anyone would manage though: scissor-kicking off the base drum, lassoing the mic cowboy-style and sprinting across the stage, all the while powerfully spitting out biting insults, this is a man in possession of superhuman energy and force.
When the song managed to get underway – though there was a glimmer of some exciting developments in the band’s sound where there’s clearly been some polishing going on – the choruses are still built for singing along and the guitars are still loud and the protagonist is still pissed off with his girlfriend. However, they’ve added a couple of layers to their sound and they’re now confident enough to exercise control – let it out here, reel it in there, break it down next. No longer limited to just two settings (stop and go), their new material broods, builds and then soars. The new songs are not just catchy, they’re also triumphant.
An hour of foot stomping, arm waving and beer throwing – and that’s just the band – later, you’re overjoyed The Pigeon Detectives are back on the live circuit. There’s no pretention and no posing, no deep pondering of the nature of humanity, just full-hearted and highly danceable agreement that this whole romance malarkey can be a bit complicated. Keyboards and more virtuoso guitar solos are welcome additions and with their slight maturing, The Pigeon Detectives have a new trump card: ballads. New songs What Can I Say and Turn Out The Lights are loud and accusatory, but they’re also gloriously wistful. “You can stay if that’s what you’d like”, ponders Bowman, “just turn out the lights when you’re leaving”, before a soaring guitar solo sweeps in and raises the risk of mass audience air-guitaring to highly dangerous levels.
All this bodes well for the Reading and Leeds Festivals this summer where the Pigeon Detectives will finally be breaking away from the NME tent and onto the Main Stage. They’ve come a long way from being The Kaiser Chief’s identikit support band. You would have to be a fool to continue to confuse them with one-trick ponies brandishing novelty percussion, and you’ll miss out on some pure energy, confidently charismatic indie rock if you do.