Sleeper and The Bluetones, O2 Academy Birmingham, 27th August 2021
If you’d asked me in 1995, who would win a Britpop battle between Sleeper and The Bluetones, I would have sworn that The Bluetones would have been huge and that Sleeper were just also rans. But time is a strange thing and Sleeper are the headliners on this tour. I can see why.
Both bands are playing their debut albums, plus a greatest hits set. If you buy gig tickets based on value for money, then this show is for you.
The soundtrack before The Bluetones come on stage is basically a list of every band I saw in. the mid-90s (Oasis, Blur, Pulp, OCS, Stone Roses etc etc). They know their crowd. The venue is pretty full, but far from sold out. It’s exactly as you’d expect – people in their 40s and 50s, some dragging disinterested teens with them.
The Bluetones launch into the whole of Expecting To Fly, their fabulous debut album. Mark Morriss looks unfeasibly well, lithe and cutting some rug with vim and vigour. He looks exactly the same, as does Adam, their guitarist. Bassist Scott looks like Dave Grohl and Billy Connolly had a child, which is an odd look for a trip down Britpop-memory lane. Meanwhile, drummer Ed seems to have either joined the Jimi Hendrix Experience or has a day job, as Charlie Chuck’s stunt double. Hmm.
The music is tight, Mark is in fine form and you remember what a great band they were. But…Mark comes across as a bit bitter, regaling the audience with low chart positions that some of their “hits” achieved thanks to us the fans, referring to how they are characterised by Slight Return when googled…it feels a bit odd. It’s a real shame as the music is great and singles like Are You Blue Or Are You Blind? and Marblehead Johnson have aged brilliantly.
Even more peculiar instead of playing later classics like Keep The Home Fires Burning or Golden Soul or Carry Me Home from the recently reissued (and very good) A New Athens album, they play a weird “mash-up of If, mixed with The Police’s Every Breath You Take. Mark seems to think this is some hilarious jape, but to be honest it’s a bit rubbish. What a shame. Still I am home listening to my signed copy of Science & Nature and it's great. Maybe Mark didn't see them supporting Sleeper either.
As they leave the stage, a flurry of roadies appear to set the stage for the main act. One looks like he’s a former member of Nickelback (worrying!), and another angrily wears a headlamp and looks like the provisional wing of Orbital….
But I need not worry, Sleeper emerge and are a joy. Louise Wener is stunning, dressed to the nines and throwing shapes, backed by an expanded and fabulous band. Guitarist Jon is returned from his secondment to The Wedding Present and is a revelation, and Andy drums like Animal from the Muppets (a good thing!). The splendid Charley Stone (who has now played at 40% of gigs I have seen this year so far) is on rhythm guitar, so Louise can focus on singing, though she straps on a guitar for a few numbers.
Sleeper are stonking and it’s suddenly very clear why they are headliners – they have the tunes, they have the show and they have a front person who wants to be there and is revelling in playing to the audience. Inbetweener, Vegas and Delicious are all fab, happy blasts back to flailing around the Timepiece in Exeter.
Their greatest hits set includes two songs from their last album, though sadly nothing from their recently released ”lost album”. Unlike most “legacy” acts (that’s polite for “back on the comeback trail”), Sleeper’s new songs are very welcome. In fact, I wished they played a few more – they are really good. But What Do I Do Now?, their blistering cover of Atomic (with a nice crowd-pleasing slice of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart) and Sale Of The Century have the crowd jumping and give the show its deserved killer ending.
In the Britpop battle, Sleeper win by a knockout.