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:: Jody Wild Goose :: Babybird ::
17 November 2006 / Academy 3 / Manchester
By James Hinchcliffe

Sheffield's Jody Wildgoose has been described as a "lo-fi maverick" but this seems a slightly grandiose interpretation given the meat-and-potatoes stadium rock he and his band serve up live. It's lyrically more than a bit trite and with songs named "Punk Rock" and "Pop Music" and other songs introduced as being "a bit country" and "about reggae" you get the impression he's trying to be all things to all men. Ultimately, his Travis-lite indie rock neither picks out nor hits any seriously worthwhile targets.

For those of us of a certain age, Babybird conjure up images of late 1996 - a disjointed post-Britpop era where for every fine and enduring act unfairly burdened with that label (Super Furry Animals spring to mind) there were at least a dozen Supernaturals or Spaces stinking up a resurgent NME and half-arsedly peddling their (now long-since forgotten) wares between laddish celebrity banter on TFI Friday. Stephen Jones was one of the good guys, you see, often misinterpreted as being an overnight success by virtue of a bona fide wedding favourite smash hit (so how many of you really had the early bedroom lo-fi stuff before "You're Gorgeous", be honest now?!!) for whom it seemed big things beckoned. Yet here he is 10 years down the line, something of a battered indie survivor - and reading his website it's a wonder he's here at all - a rescheduled tour trimmed to just 3 dates due to difficult ticket and album sales and the guy is seemingly a bit irked and befuddled by the whole thing.

What went wrong, then? Well, that's for another time, but he looks relaxed enough - still physically a cross between Eddie Izzard and Kiefer Sutherland and with a biting wit and unflinchingly confident and confrontational stage presence in tow. If he's here to make friends he has an odd way of going about it, poking fun at the Manchester accent within seconds of arriving on stage ("There's something a bit gay about it, isn't there?") and taunting well-meaning fans-cum-hecklers with barbed (though essentially good-natured) jibes. It's all just a laugh, though, and the goodwill, quite rightly, remains. Then he's into a vocally treated, coarse sounding opener before a rousing, excellent "Bad Old Man" allays hunches/fears he's not in the mood to play any of his better known songs. The vocals throughout - part Vegas showman, part terrace orchestrator - always seemed suited to (and worthy of) bigger venues - if not the brave subject matter of his often misinterpreted ballads - so it's nice to hear both, up this close and personal. And despite a number of false starts (I think I spot an abandonment too) that might frustrate in less amiable, entertaining hands (between tunes he even has the temerity to ask if anyone will buy him a double brandy....he ends up with 3) the lounge indie pop rarely hits a rut, new songs such as "Shoutabout", "Old Skin" and recent single "Snails" every bit as good as his best previous work.

And he pretty much does avoid "the hits", only wheeling out "You're Gorgeous" and "Back Together" (and not quite doing the latter justice) for an encore it didn't seem would happen, but despite his protestations about the former being "the reason you're all here" and something he's "contractually obliged to play" the crowd are more knowledgeable, tolerant and, ultimately, happy to move on than he perhaps gives them credit for. Still mighty nice to hear them, though, for reasons not involving nostalgia - they're just great songs. And at a time when indie reformations (Pixies, Dinosaur Jr, Lemonheads....) are all the rage there seems no good reason on this showing why this homegrown wanderer can't get right back on track.

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