Prior to The Bishops, The 286 took to the stage minus their two cellists, which was a shame as it would have fleshed out the group’s vaguely anaemic Anglo-pop. The remaining quintet did include a violinist - Emma - who sawed away admirably behind her music stand. But the dominant sound was that of the electric piano, nudging the band towards the middle of the road. Some pleasant enough tunes could be found among the fromage, however, suggesting that The 286 could have commercial impact given the necessary studio sheen. Standing out was the penultimate Sgt Pepper-esque fanfare of ‘Month of Sundays’, delivered with an appropriately nasal vocal twang, before it was all back to Hamburg for the set-closing rocky rumble of ‘Little Louisa’. But whether it was the fault of those missing in action or not, there was little fluidity in the band’s sound, mirrored by their slightly stilted stage presence. The set snagged on a tentative approach, and if they don’t shake off the shackles and inject a little soul, then The 286 may be forever destined just to make up the numbers.
A neatly garbed trio with tailored tunes to match, The Bishops have been making eyes at the music industry’s movers and shakers for several years now, chalking up an impressive roster of festival slots and big-name supports in the process. Although clearly not a band to dwell on past achievements – much of tonight’s set comprised new material from third album All Lost Time, out in October – such experience has brought them patent self-assurance. At ease in the spotlight, brothers Mike, on guitar and lead vocals, and Pete Bishop, on bass and backing, strode about the stage sharing harmonies over a set of precise and angular punchy pop. Perhaps the most ear-catching of the instrumentalists, though, was drummer Chris McConville, whose oft-contrapuntal beats contrasted with the brothers’ straight delivery and lent several numbers their original edge. But essentially this band is a collective effort, each member aware of the others’ roles, and every break, every refrain, has been thoroughly honed. That said, and far be it from me to bash The Bishops (yeah, like they’ve never heard that one before), as the set unfolded it threatened to become as homogeneous as might be feared from an unadorned guitar-bass-drums three-piece. But the band’s agile songcraft managed to mostly keep things fresh; these were tunes to entice further listening. Tonight’s immediate highs were mod stomper ‘City Lights’ from 2009’s For Now, and new material on which Mike’s resounding guitar peals topped some arty white-boy funk à la Franz Ferdinand, promising much from the album to come.
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