Thursday. Shoreditch. I remember dancing furiously, freaking out in a raincoat to a man playing a saxophone, basking in the promise of a fresh and energetic new band, reaching out, out into the rum-addled darkness of the night. I also saw The Ting Tings.
It started out predictably enough. Old Street’s XOYO made people queue outside until twenty-past eight for no discernible reason, other than to allow bored touts to flyer a worryingly middle-aged audience-in-waiting. That’s not strictly true: the girls behind me looked about sixteen, but they were American and maybe it’s taken a little while for The Ting Tings to make it across the pond? Surely not: there was that music video. You know, the one in the skate park. With that shiny thing – what is it again? Oh, yeah: The Sun. Sounds American. Well, that was at least a couple of years back now, so statistically speaking, the Cousins have probably had a decent-enough chance of getting to grips with their music, right? It’s a sobering thought.
When the band came out, I’ll admit, I was surprised. They looked young. In fact, they had a full setup: vocalist, drummer, guitarist, synth player, bassist. They were rocking out. I was too: everything seemed illuminated and warm, and the voices in my head were starting to fade. I was really getting into it. But this wasn’t The Ting Tings. This was the very accomplished warm-up act, Fickle Friends. Something that singles out a group like this is how they react to their own music: there’s nothing false about it, they’re genuinely into what they’re doing, and the passive, if curious, crowd were won over as song after song went down without a hitch. It was great to see all the elements of this energetic young group coming together to form something convincing. Lead singer, Natassja Shiner has one hell of a voice, but this performance was all about the various components matching up: no-one outshone or outdid, other than the band itself, and the technical elements from the guitar tone to the timing struck perfectly. Their sound is poppy, sure, but there’s more depth to these guys than sickly-sweet Radio One tunes (Zane Lowe’s been an early supporter, but don’t let that put you off). If you’re looking for a way in, ‘Play’, ‘I Want, You Want’ and ‘Girl Like That’ are all good examples of what they have to offer, but it’s ‘80s-redolent ‘Swim’ which seems to have had heads turning in recent months, and the group finished on it with a resounding tick of approval from the teenage/baby-booming stunners in front of them.
Then they left. At this point I realised that I hadn’t made a single note all evening, and I had no paper. I could type on my phone, but we’re in an eternity of electric screens pissing into our faces 24/7 as it is, and my retinas were on the verge of giving up. Luckily I’d brought my girlfriend along who was happy to write on my arm, so two overpriced rum-and-cokes later we were gearing up for the main event.
There’s probably nothing inherently wrong with The Ting Tings. Have a look at their Wikipedia page – Katie White: vocals, guitar, bass, drums, bass guitar, cowbells; Jules De Martino: drums, lead guitar, bass guitar, vocals, piano. I mean, that’s a mix right? That’s got all the makings of good-old-fashioned musical exploration (apart from the cowbells; no one needs cowbells), but the problem seems to be the idea that The Ting Tings, as a two-piece band, are supposed to operate all these things at the same time. Fine, there was that dude at the back with two MacBooks whirring away, but that couldn’t be the backbone to their sound, could it? Probably not as it happens: on one occasion White, or De Martino, or both, lost their footing and announced, “Yeah, we’re going to start that one again”, and then, “We’re really nervous; it’s our first show.” What, ever? Mistakes are occasionally forgivable in the unpredictable context of live performance, but there was basic stuff going wrong here, including White repeatedly standing too close to her own amp and sending shrieking feedback into every unwilling inner ear in the house, and, at one point, mismanaging the volume clamp on her guitar so the solo came in at 50,000 decibels above everything else. For a band who have described themselves as control freaks, they didn’t cut it when it came to the ‘control’ part of the equation.
That’s not to say that they were negatively received. The crowd were definitely very encouraging, and perhaps under the less polished edge of this confusing duo there’s a good act in there somewhere, waiting to break out. The trouble is it’s not consistent. Many of these songs are no better or worse than a lot of stuff on the market at the present time, but that distinguishing sassiness that brought us tracks like ‘Shut Up and Let Me Go’ and the ever-present ‘That’s Not My Name’ is just plain annoying. Let’s face it, ‘sassy’ is an ugly word, and as a personality trait, it gets tiring very quickly. That’s why when you hear the singer ask the sound guys for her ‘loop’, everything freezes and you wonder what fresh hell awaits. Oh, it’s that one: the one that repeats the words ‘the drums, the drums, the drums’ into infinity. Marlon Brando only needed to say ‘the horror’ twice for it to sink in, so do we really need to – wait. Wait, she isn’t saying ‘drums’. I turn to my girlfriend: “is she saying ‘dwums’”? I can’t hear the reply. She writes something on my arm. I look back up at De Martino and wonder how long he’s been a dwummer. Never mind: it’s building to something.
Actually, as it happens, it wasn’t. There was a rousing call for an encore, but when the pair re-emerged, it turned out they’d come ill-prepared and apologetically started a Janet Jackson cover, which fizzled us all back to the top of the stairs and into the waiting night outside. Ten minutes later we flung ourselves into Brazilian-themed bar, Floripa, and rocked out to a bizarre mix of RnB and ‘50s rock-and-roll, played by a doggedly charismatic band that looks like a cross between Status Quo and The XX. That’s what I call eclectic.
The next day I reviewed my ‘notes’ (the etchings on my arm, still visible despite the smudging): ‘NUMEROUS FUCK UPS’; ‘GUMMIN’; ‘KNOW WHAT I KNOW’, and, predictably, ‘TWAT’. I don’t know what ‘GUMMIN’ means, but I’m not sure it’s good. I wanted to be surprised by one or other Ting Ting – I really did – but it turns out it’s just quite hard to make any instrument sound convincing unless you have a decent number of people to play them. Maybe that’s just me – the voices in my head have started again now, so I’m going sink my teeth into another album to get rid of them. Just nothing repetitive.