The fact that veteran art-rockers The Blue Aeroplanes can still pack out a mid-sized venue, such as the Norwich Arts Centre, is a testament to their enduring cult appeal. Cutting their teeth on the Bristol “art” circuit of the early 1980s, before coming of age with critically acclaimed albums, Swagger and Beatsongs, the band has undergone almost constant line up changes, always led by mercurial frontman, Gerard Langley.
Aligning themselves with the art scene from the outset suggests that their music is something to be appreciated rather than enjoyed and what may have seemed endearingly precocious when the band were in their twenties is now in danger of lapsing into pretension. What prevents this is the self awareness and good humour with which they conduct themselves: this may be art, but it isn’t high art.
The bands latest effort “Welcome, Stranger!” doesn’t stray far from the tried and tested formula of jangly guitars and deadpan, wordplay-loaded lyrics but, as their first album of new material in six years, represents something of a resurgence for the group and a welcome return to form.
The new material heavily peppers the set list on the night and is as warmly received as the older hits by the fans in the room, much to the visible delight of Langley, who seems to be relishing the chance to showcase his still deft lyricism. Of these new tracks Elvis Festival is a particular highlight; a study of the unflappable confidence of Elvis impersonators, whom Langley seems to channeling during the number.
In an age of anniversary tours celebrating bygone successes it’s refreshing to see a veteran band so focused on what comes next, rather than what came before. I suspect that to slow down and reflect on their past as so many of their contemporaries have done would bore them; this is a band moving forward, even now.
Having a high energy, low inhibition dancer as part of the band and onstage at live shows seems decidedly cliché in a post-Bez world, but Wojtek Dmochowski‘s possessed, talismanic grooving actually predates that of his Mancunian counterpart by a number of years. Tonight he is on fine form, still hurtling and flailing with as reckless an abandon as ever. It’s less visual art and more dad dancing, and that’s ok; it lends a much needed lightness to proceedings, softening Langley’s art-rock edge.
Biggest hit Jacket Hangs stands up as well as ever and elicits the most enthusiastic audience response of the evening. They’ve showed off so much brand new material that it’s difficult to begrudge them luxuriating in some nostalgia – they’ve earned it.
The Blue Aeroplanes have always only held cult appeal and their latest album will do nothing to change that. But for the audience in the little venue in Norwich and up and down the country their singular brand of lyrical, literary rock remains a genuine joy.