As you may or may not be aware, England is currently enduring a heat wave. In fact, Wednesdayís temperature was the highest ever recorded in London. There couldnít have been a more perfect time for a planned set of outdoor concerts in the capital, then, as the Grolsch Summer Set at Somerset House kicked off with an excellent bill of Ash, Electric Soft Parade and upstarts Fi-Lo Radio. The bands, locale and weather did not disappoint in the least.
New kids Fi-Lo Radio hit the stage at 8 p.m. sharp to a courtyard that was already over half full, even those doors had just opened half an hour prior. The trio from Preston, although they only had a handful of gigs under the belt before being added as openers to this heavy-hitting affair, performed far better than would be expected from an up and coming band. They were tight, sounded huge and had hooks. What else can you ask? Frontman Jon-Lee Martin and bassist Jude Pratt engaged in playful banter with the crowd between songs and had all the presence of bands with much more experience. By the time first single ìCracked Bones Cheap Skinî was unleashed, they had the crowdís full attention and a good number of them amassed on their side, cheering along to their Ash fronted by a less fey James Walsh of Starsailor sound. If this show is anything to go by, watch out for this lot.
It was during the break between Fi-Lo and Electric Soft Parade that the beauty of the surroundings really struck me. The gig was being held at Somerset house, a gorgeous 18th Century building that had the vibe of a French palace. Between the architecture, the super warm weather and bands (and the Grolsch!) I was having a blast. It got even better when I rolled back to the VIP area. Normally, these areas are only good for escaping the hustle and bustle of gigs, but when the backstage area overlooks the Thames in a spectacularly scenic way, itís definitely worth a mention.
A few more Grolsches down and it was time for Electric Soft Parade. The brother duo of Tom and Alex White flesh out to a four-piece live and even switch instruments on occasion. However, this shouldnít be viewed as a gimmick; in this case the duo are truly gifted musicians, as their 2001 debut album Holes In The Wall showed, making it to my top-10 of that year. The set consisted of half material from that album, with the singles ìEmpty At The End,î and ìThereís A Silenceî shimmering on this glorious evening. We were treated to a good helping of the bandís upcoming CD, The American Adventure, and its leading single, ìThings Iíve Done Before.î Much of the new material sounded amazing and the boys from Brighton may just be on the cusp of something really special
More river staring and beer imbibing and before I knew it, the big boys were on the stage. Ash had returned to London for the first time in over a year and a half, after having spent a huge chunk of that time touring around the US trying to break it big. ìBurn Baby Burnî made a dent in the US charts and tours with Dashboard Confessional and Saves The Day helped expose them to a whole new audience. However, they were back in their element on this evening. They were blasting out the hits and the crowd was eating out of their hands. Conversely, Ash was being showered with love and obviously used this energy to kick the performance up a notch or six. Frontman Tim Wheeler, showing off his brand new Chinese birthyear tattoo, was exceptionally happy to be back in London and his vocals were note perfect and his guitar licks flaming. îLose Controlî and ìAngel Interceptorî kicked off the festivities and from then on out, it was pogoing kids down front, indie Grateful Dead-style freedom dancing around the edges and smiles everywhere. ìOh Yeah,î ìGoldfingerî ìShining Light,î ìGirlfriend From Mars,î ìKung Fu,î ìA Life Less Ordinaryî were amongst the jams in the hits-heavy set, but new music was aired, as well, including numbers to watch out for called ìRenegade Calvalcade,î ìOrpheus,î ìEvil Eye,î and ìOn A Wave.î The set was over far too soon, but they returned to air out another new song before launching into their first ever single, the fanfuckingtastic ìJack Names The Planets.î They ended the show on a perfect high, blasting through ìBurn Baby Burnî like it was sonic fire, bathing the crowd in its warmth and greatness. Which, come to think of it, it may very well have been. What a brilliant night. Big ups to Gav and, of course, Tav for their hospitality.