Album Review: Bombay Bicycle Club – ‘I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ Live at Brixton

As the crowd roars into life at the very start of this album, we’re transported back to the care-free days of live music. Those attending this show in November 2019 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Bombay Bicycle Club’s debut album ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ didn’t know how good they had it (me included), and were oblivious that a year later they’d be able to do no more than listen back to recordings. Whilst it’s the ultimate nostalgia trip for a variety of reasons, Bombay Bicycle Club’s Live at Brixton album is surrounded by an air of sadness, for the time being anyway. Calling all old-school indie fans, especially those desperate for the return of gigs: this one’s for you.

After the iconic, slightly chaotic instrumental jam of an intro, ‘Emergency Contraception Blues’, the four-piece proceed to perform the entirety of their debut album live, just as well as (if not even better than) they would’ve done 10 years ago. The crowd, who are undoubtedly singing back the entire album word for word, are quietened for the majority of the album’s 54-minute duration, allowing for the live instrumentation and vocals to be heard in full clarity like never before. The moments where the audience are heard though, like when singing along to the guitar riff from ‘Evening/Morning’ in true British festival crowd style, their excitement to be witnessing a staple indie band is obvious.

And who wouldn’t be excited to hear ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ live? It’s a fast-paced album packed full of recognisable, energetic riffs, and that energy is only amplified in live form. Lead singer Jack Steadman stops a few songs in to say: “It’s so special for us to be here to play this record for you”, emphasising how privileged the band feels to be revisiting their debut. It really does feel that way, as the band are giving it their all.
Steadman’s unique vocals are endearing as ever, and all the instruments sound impeccable too. There’s certainly no opportunity for a break within this album, as Bombay Bicycle Club don’t slow the pace for even a second. The crowd managed to keep up, predictably saving their biggest reaction for ‘Always Like This’, the most well-known hit and a firm fan favourite. Hearing thousands of people scream “I’m not whole” over and over is sure to make you miss the feeling of togetherness that a crowd brings, making it tempting to sing along at home and relive such moments. 

Despite the band’s big hit being over and done with, the indie-rock bliss is far from over at this point. Next comes the heavy, passionately performed ‘Magnet’, which fades with a somewhat delicate outro, displaying the intricacy of Bombay Bicycle Club’s first album. ‘Cancel On Me’ goes the opposite way, starting fairly nonchalantly and building up to a more instrumentally intense ending.

The beginning of ‘Autumn’ has some added sound effects, giving it more of a Radiohead sound than the studio version; it’s small details like these that eagle-eyed fans will appreciate from having a new version of the much-loved classic album to analyse.

Providing a disclaimer that these songs were written when the band were doing their GCSEs and living mundane teenage lives, Steadman introduces ‘The Hill’ as being “literally just about sitting on a hill behind the school we went to”. The song feels much more complex though, especially when performed by a group of men in their late-20s, who probably have a much better idea of the “meaning of life” than they did when they sang about it as teenagers.

Followed by the album’s winding down track ‘The Giantess’, ‘What If’ is the last chance on the album for some proper headbanging. After a teasingly quiet pre-chorus, frontman Jack Steadman sings “If only one of us had the guts tonight” in a convincingly heart-wrenching way, over the top of what may be the band’s most powerful chorus yet. ‘What If’ is a rather underrated and underestimated track from Bombay Bicycle Club, coming so late in the album, yet it is stretched to its full potential when played live, providing a satisfying final burst of passion before the album is rounded off.

The gentle, folky tone of ‘The Giantess’ feels somewhat uneasy, to begin with, given all the rugged indie-rock tunes that have just been thrown at us, but it actually makes a nice change for the show to draw to an end peacefully, accompanied by some female vocals for added harmony. The song does, of course, pick up in the final moments, unlike the studio version, allowing the show to still go out with a bang rather than dwindling off. The extended instrumental outro is the last we hear from the band, as the audience’s cheering ends the album in the same way it began. It’s difficult to feel quite the same sense of euphoria that would’ve come from seeing this live performance in the flesh, but nonetheless, there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a listen of the recording.

The success of this live album is a testament to how good the original was when released a decade ago but also demonstrates how Bombay Bicycle Club are so effortlessly able to give a new lease of life to their best accomplishment. Looking ahead to 2021, it provides a shred of hope that we too may be able to shake loose our blues.

Evie Barrett
Writer

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