This was one of three ‘secret’ gigs the band used to road test their new, long-awaited new material. Wasn’t that secret. The Bodega was rammed!
Date: April 20, 2011
Venue: The Bodega Social
“Thanks for coming along, we’re gonna play some new songs, so you’re gonna have to roll with us”, announces Hard-Fi’s baby-faced leader, Richard Archer, by way of a disclaimer just in case the sold-out crowd were simply expecting a greatest hits package after starting with old favourite Tied Up Too Tight.
But it’s doubtful this discerning gathering would be so naive to expect such a formulaic display on the band’s overdue return to the live scene, because this is a ‘secret show’, one of four the band have hastily arranged to specifically road-test their new material.
The people here tonight knew what to expect. Most of them are Hard-Fi devotees who found out about this gig by virtue of their patronage of the band, because the promotion of these gigs has been muted to say the least. It wasn’t even announced on the Bodega’s website, so without a deep knowledge of the band’s plans, the casual music fan wouldn’t have known anything about it.
For the band, perhaps by playing smaller venues – the Bodega is the smallest they’ve played in some time – they felt they could re-connect with a live audience after their prolonged hiatus, a three-year disappearance in which the British music scene has erased Hard-Fi from its memory stick.
Simply experiencing the crowd’s warm welcome would have been an encouraging feeling for them; a moment when they would’ve realised their place in this ever-evolving musical landscape was never in doubt. And furthermore, the adulation each song receives drums home that point.
Their sound, naturally, has shifted slightly from the London-inspired, Clash-esque trajectory of yonder.
Bring It On and Lovesong aren’t massive departures from their oeuvre, but Stay Alive starts like Duran Duran’s Girls On Film before getting its groove on and forming a slinky indie-disco number.
Fire In The House is dark, mysterious and brooding, until the chorus shakes it out of its malaise, while Sweat is the highlight of the newbies, a meaty funk-driven behemoth.
Archer still knows how to treat an audience. You don’t get a reputation for being one of the best live bands in Britain by being prosaic and numb. He’s talkative, responsive and appreciative. He admits that the new songs are rusty. “We need the practise”, he concedes, as he reflects that this flurry of live action is the first in what feels like forever.
Of course, we get the hits, and they still sound huge. The Clashy Suburban Knights has more bounce than Zebedee; the crowd go crazy for Hard To Beat, and set closer Living For The Weekend has the whole place jumping.
It’s easy to forget their potency as a band. It takes a revisit to awaken memories of their impressive output. And on this evidence, their return is timely, and an unmitigated success.