This topped my Gig of the Year poll for 2008. A superb celebration of one man’s tranformation from a schizoid fuzzball rock oddbod to a heart-melting revolutionary. Simply brilliant.
Date: February 10, 2008
Venue: Rescue Rooms
Lightspeed Champion may not be a name you’re familiar with. Allow me, then, to introduce him. Yes him. That name belongs not to a band but to one man and his witty and society-condemning tales. He’s Devonte ‘Dev’ Hynes – returning underground indie hero and inventor of such niche genres as loon-punk, new rave (no it wasn’t Klaxons) and now, as he embarks on a solo career, poetic geek-folk and dusty Americana.
Whatever genre he wishes to fit into (and, knowing Dev, he’d much rather defy classification anyway), his sincere and caustic melodies are a million miles away from the erratic fuzzy bluster of his last incarnation, Test Icicles: a band for whom convention forgot, and whose existence disgusted even him.
Resplendent in geeky thick-rimmed National Health glasses and woolly hat, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Dev is an outrageous eccentric who loves nothing better than frequenting his local scenester-heavy watering hole in London’s indie mecca, Shoreditch, whilst boring everyone to death with his love of Star Wars (not only does Dev halt proceedings to talk to the crowd about the films but he and his band cobble together a rickety rendition of its theme tune too).
But not so: Dev is shy and awkward, choosing to shun the limelight in favour of, most probably, a stiff lemon tea back at his Chiswick bed-sit.
Tonight he’s charming and witty but clearly apprehensive about his new direction. As he delivers his stark dissections of odious noughties culture via a tongue as sharp as cheese wire, also palpable is the coy wonderment similar to that of a shy child. He apologises for his lack of vitality, and admits that he feels sick in front of the sell-out crowd.
But, via trembling lamentations which sound like Americana troubadour Bright Eyes busking on the Old Kent Road, his ruminations are taught and precise, gradually eschewing the nervous energy to reveal a level-headed urban poet and a man at ease with his new-found profession.
Within his music there’s a generous dollop of pathos, sadness and disdain, and there’s more than a hint of self-deprecating brutality and sobering vulnerability, all of which are particularly lucid in the frothy brew of 10-minute set-closer, Midnight Surprise.
It’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at times, especially when his self-loathing is so audible. For a man who hates the rigours of touring and who surveys his audience like a spotty teenager would his prospective boss at his first interview, his compelling set is proof that he should worry not. He may be secretly wishing he could be somewhere else but his Dev-otees are pleased to have their champion back.