Everything you always see in the first paragraph of a review was true last night: the venue was packed, the fans were excited, and the cheers were loud. I can’t argue any of that. But something about the Bombay Bicycle Club show felt different.
Terminal 5 was indeed packed. After all, it is the CMJ Music Marathon. But it felt strangely peaceful for a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. When the fans began inching around the balconies and politely filling up spots, my mind threw out the strangest comparison: church.
There was definitely excitement in the air as we awaited the British indie rockers, but it all felt very calm and friendly. The benches around the perimeter may as well have been pews. No one was arguing over a spot, no one was throwing punches. When they took the stage, I actually saw two total strangers agree to take turns in the spot at the front of the balcony – and actually do it, song after song. People even put their hands in the air and swayed.
I once saw a crowd get bloody at a Fun. concert, so I know the saintly atmosphere is not just an indie pop thing. It’s a Bombay Bicycle Club thing. I decided to put the spiritual setting to the ultimate test: I sat cross-legged on the floor. Since it’s not 1969, I was fully prepared to be stomped on and cursed at. Instead, I was actually joined by a nice elderly lady, and a few minutes later, a young guy. Though none of us spoke the same language, we shared the night by gazing at the stage between other people’s rain boots. It was beautiful.
Their performance was otherworldly. Bombay Bicycle Club’s setlist included “Overdone,” “It’s Alright Now,” “Shuffle,” “Lights Out, Words Gone,” “Your Eyes,” “Home By Now” “Whenever, Wherever,” “Eyes Off You,” “Rinse Me Down,” “Ivy and Gold,” “The Giantess,” “Evening / Morning,” “Can I Wake You Up,” “With Every Heartbeat,” “Feel,” “Luna,” “Always Like This,” and “So Long, See You Tomorrow.” Their show was followed by a gripping encore of “What If,” and “Carry Me Home,” which was demanded by one of the loudest eruptions of applause I have ever heard.
Jack Steadman took us to a faraway land with his silky vocals, rich piano embellishments, and, suddenly, on “So Long, See You Tomorrow,” his pounding percussion. With Jamie MacColl on guitar, Suren de Saram on drums, and Ed Nash on bass, the group constantly changed their setup, scurrying between songs like kids putting on a puppet show.
Bombay Bicycle Club is never afraid to take a strange melody, decide it’s cool, repeat it like crazy, and make you love it. For me, that’s what “Shuffle,” their most popular song, has always been about. That kind of fearlessness should have prepared me for the fact that they played “Shuffle” just three songs into the show. It’s a bold move to play your number one so early in the set, and with every shimmering note, they seemed to say “We’re not what you thought we were.”
The same feeling was crystal clear in “Eyes Off You,” which stripped the whole setup down to Steadman’s piano-vocals, allowing him to weave a web of amazing, delicate high notes. “The Giantess” featured huge, unexpected slams on the drums, an Animal Collective-esque level of trippiness, and an absolutely explosive breakdown. “Evening / Morning” wins the award for the most unique way to describe love, with the fervent words, “I am ready to owe you anything.”
The lighting and visual effects were hypnotic. “It’s Alright Now” was a burst of sunshine yellow, which immediately turned to a dusky blue in “Shuffle.” The five circular screens behind them featured colorful, exotic animations, like some kind of vintage safari. Grainy tribal patterns flowed from purple to orange, iguanas turned into eagles, lotus flowers bloomed between strange jumping fish, and a retro pink snake launched into a bite.
Steadman was beyond sweet between songs. “Alright, let’s get silly!” was perfect before the quick and folksy “Ivy and Cold.” When he asked, “Is everyone doing okay?” he really meant it, and “Get home safely!” could not have been more perfect before “Carry Me Home.” When it all came to a close and the crowd rejoiced in perfect harmony, it made perfect sense that Bombay Bicycle Club would have a slightly religious following.