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all words: William Alberque
all photos: Kevin Hulse

Ah, the BBC.  Named for a chain of English Indian restaurants, they released two EPs in 2007 – the second of which was quite intriguing.  Really, though, it wasn’t until their “Evening/Morning” 7” on Young and Lost Club that I realized this was a band worth watching.  If you know the song, you know the ominous build leading to the bass attack about 25 seconds in, followed quickly by the urgent, emotional delivery of lead singer Jack Steadman. The album that followed, 2009’s “I Had the Blues but Shook Them Loose” shocked and disappointed me, as did the acoustic/covers album that followed, 2010’s “Flaws.”

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All in all, I was ready to pack it in and ignore Bombay Bicycle Club, now and forever.  Then comes the download track, “Shuffle,” from their latest album, “A Different Kind of Fix.” With its manic Matt & Kim opening and joyous, well, shuffling beat, soaring melodies and clever songwriting, I was ready to try them again.  The album is a joy, with none of the flatness that seemed to dog their other two albums.  I was set to see them, but seriously expected them to play the Black Cat.  Maybe the Backstage.  But not to sell out the 930 Club.

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Sorry I missed the openers – Fanfarlo were playing an early show at U Street Music Hall.  And, Lil’E was Djing between sets.  I couldn’t miss that.

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Steadman and the rest of the BBC seem honestly agog at the size and unbridled enthusiasm audience, saying again and again that this was the best reception they’d received in the States – and not in that “HELLO SHELBYVILLE” way that grates with condescension.  You could get the sense that the European festival circuit has done a world of good for their confidence – though the Virgin Free Fest saw so few people turn up for their gig that I was able to stand front and center.  I’m not sure what’s broken them through here, but a performance like this will go a long way towards cementing their place.  That, and the fantastic new album, of course.

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The set list seemed tailored to my tastes, picking the best songs from Fix – starting with the gorgeous “How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep,” and diving right into “Your Eyes,” and “Bad Timing,” before the relative let-off of “Open House” and the naff dross of “Dust on the Ground,” giving me time to get a drink before launching back into another three good tracks from Fix – “Leave It,” and “Take the Right One,” “Lights Out, Words Gone.”

“Rinse Me Down” and “Ivy and Gold” from Flaws follow, with Ivy drenched in an ersatz Celtic vibe not dissimilar from a certain Dexy’s song.  The audience are enjoying themselves, with the sold out crowd dancing and singing with many of the tracks.  A hard core in the center, well back from the stage, is dancing with their hands in the air, and they (along with me, it must be said) react with wild abandon to the distinctive opening of “Evening/Morning.”

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Clearly, BBC has learned an awful lot from the past year of near constant touring, and each song is tightened and heightened live – some beyond recognition.  The older songs are made bolder, louder, more exciting – where on album they might be muted and relatively tired-sounding.  The new songs have been sharpened to party-starting anthems, and Steadman is a fantastic lead man, like a pre-Spirit of Eden Mark Hollis, all mop hair and emotions on his sleeve.

I’m overjoyed that “Cancel on Me” gets a run out – again, beefed up, more emotional and bolder than the EP version, but still carrying the emotional fragility that makes BBC great.  “Lamplight” turns into quite a thrash by the end, and “Always Like This,” its Vampire Weekend-ness obvious in the setting, turns into a mass clap-along by the end.  “What You Want” turns all shoegaze wall-of-noise by the end, and the crowd goes bonkers, with a merciful break to give us a few seconds to recover.

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The encore happens – it’s “Shuffle,”  and now I’m dancing and grinning like an idiot.  They’ve made it even more irresistible than on record, and, when it ends, they again remind the crowd what an unbelievable experience it is to see an American crowd in this much of a frenzy for them.  They finish with “What If” from Blues, convincing me to go back and reconsider their first album.  Maybe it’s not as bad as I remember?  Or maybe BBC have gone around the world and come back as a great rock and roll band.

Either way, I had a great night.  Great show.  Can’t wait for them to come back.

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