“We still can’t believe we get to play rooms this big” exclaims Bastille frontman, Dan Smith, trying to make himself heard over a riotous Cambridge Corn Exchange. The band are approaching the close of their fifth night on a nationwide UK tour, and if I’m honest I can’t remember the last time I saw a reception quite like this. Smith has stated repeatedly in the past that he’s not one for the limelight, and not a huge fan of the attention his band’s fame has brought along with it, but as he looks out over a seething mass of screaming heads he doesn’t look like he’s too uncomfortable with the adulation being sent his way. And why shouldn’t he be? It’s well known how quickly Bastille have come in a relatively short space of time, and if tonight was an indicator of the way things are going, then there’s no reason for that to slow down.
It was Bipolar Sunshine who opened proceedings for the evening with soul-driven indie numbers and upbeat tempos. Influences ranging from the likes of Prince to the Arctic Monkeys were apparent, and it seems that former Kid British frontman Adio Marchant has found a new, more mature sound than those of his previous ensemble. London based To Kill a King came next, who fresh off the back of a well-deserved record deal with Xtra Mile and re-release of their debut album, set about warming up an already sizeable crowd. They managed that with ease; harmonised vocals, pounding drums and guitar driven indie-rock made it evident why these boys continue to make a name for themselves. An early appearance from Bastille onstage for a collaboration of ‘Choices’ was fantastic and forced the crowd into fever pitch, but it didn’t distract from what was otherwise a cracking opening set, closed off with the Two Door Cinema Club-esque ‘Funeral’.
The accelerated success of Bastille surely lies in their sing-a-long anthems. From the moment they came on stage and opened with album title track ‘Bad Blood’ to their close over an hour later, the Corn Exchange crowd roared every word along with them, in fact there was never really a point where the two were separate. Dan Smith prowled around the stage throughout, hooded at first, clambering onto stage blocks, crashing drums or perched at his keyboard on occasion, but all the while leading the chorus with that distinctive voice, now becoming as well-known as any. ‘Things We Lost in the Fire’ came next, instigating a similar crowd response again, before ‘Overjoyed’ and then the shuddering drums of ‘The Silence’, things were moving along nicely.
Aside from the synth led sounds used so frequently by the group, there were lighting arrangements and cinematic projections on stage that will have arena technicians rubbing their hands in anticipation around the country, and it all added to the impressive set up of what is essentially an electronic band for an electronic generation. A sea of camera phones are held aloft throughout the show, and as the group performed an impressive cover of City High’s ‘What Would You Do?’ you kind of hoped that someone, somewhere was actually watching it for the moment rather than merely recording it to stick on YouTube.
With most numbers mostly drum and keyboard driven, there was the curious introduction of a guitar lead mid-set; bringing heavy, brooding riffs in ‘Blame’ and then in particular the close of the ‘The Draw’, setting things in a slightly different direction. That didn’t stay for long however, as well worked use of synth and edited sound bites took us into ‘Icarus’ and more familiar territory, before Smith took the roof off the place by disappearing under a cloak of darkness and appearing on the balcony seconds later. From here he conducted the entire place through a rendition of ‘Flaws’ to close the main set, it was as atmospheric as it was stirring.
The encore was always only going to go one way, really. Before the band had even arrived back on stage the crowd were chanting the hook to ‘Pompeii’ and while ‘Get Home’ and the wickedly clever cover of ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’ by Snap! were deservedly well received, the arrival back on stage of To Kill a King for a collective rendition of Bastille’s biggest hit was every bit as deafening as expected. As closing songs go, ‘Pompeii’ is about as anthemic as it gets at the moment, and for as long as they continue to produce songs and live shows like this, then they’d better get used to playing those bigger rooms.