“If you could just … just suspend your belief in the Power of ROCK. Just for now …”
Not likely, Paul. It’s been ten years since Maxïmo Park played in Cambridge — I know, I was there — and boy, did Cambridge miss you.
Last time they played Cambridge it was at the Corn Exchange, the venue bands are said to play once on their way up, and once more on their way back down. Well, I like a band that don’t do things by the rules. This audience seemed to be split in even halves: those who were long-time fans, and those who were enjoying their first Maxïmo Park gig. This was only clear because the band asked, though; everyone sang their hearts out to every song, old or new, regardless of how many gigs they’d been to before.
The set list was skewed heavily towards material from the new album, Risk to Exist, and this went down particularly well. The response to songs that have only been available for a little under a month was huge, and the combination of leftwing, compassionate politics, great tunes and sing-along hooks suited Cambridge down to a tee. The singer Paul Smith, introducing ‘Make What You Can’, wondered ‘how deep’ he should go in his explanation of the song. He floundered between disclaimers that he wanted people to interpret it how they wanted, emphasising that this was a rock gig and not a political speech, and yet clearly appreciating Cambridge’s support for the reason the song was written: the valid question — why is our Prime Minister taking support away from those who need it most? It’s okay though, he also talked about how his dancing sometimes got a little bit Axl Rose, so it wasn’t quite a Corbyn rally (Cambridge likes those too, anyway).
The customary energy of their live shows took a few tracks to build, but with the crowd-pleasing ‘Books from Boxes’ behind them momentum grew quickly. I think it was noticeable that the more the crowd responded, the more the band enjoyed themselves, being clearly both exhausted and affected by the cheering at the end of the encore. Their long touring experience showed in the rapport with the crowd and in the determination with which they pushed through a somewhat confused version of the new track ‘Alchemy’, laughing off the ‘variations’ afterwards and soon regaining confidence with another old fan favourite, By the Monument. Honestly, we were eating out of their hands by that point anyway: the response to the band’s gestures, waving for more noise, was vast; there was a lot of clapping along, sometimes band-led, sometimes audience-led; and you could see the pockets of old-timers in the audience by who jabbed the air with a finger on the right lines in ‘Going Missing’ (‘forget it, forget it’, ‘regret it, regret it’) and pressed their palms skyward to apply some pressure…
Although it was a set list that seemed to have been chosen in a hurry (Paul had to check his notes quite a lot at the start), it fitted together really well. The segues from old tracks to new worked well; for anyone who felt a bit leery about the overt politics of ‘Make What You Can’, it was followed by the soothing, needs-no-introduction classic, ‘I Want You to Stay’. ‘Our Velocity’, with the line ‘are you willing to resist / for people you’ve never met?’ also chimed surprisingly well with ‘The Hero’ and other new tracks.
I’ve been so pleasantly surprised each time I’ve been to a Maxïmo gig since I ended a six-year hiatus on seeing them live at the final Split Festival in 2014. The fans that have stuck around, and the new fans that have accumulated long after the heyday of the 2000s takeover of the charts by indie bands, are a devoted and happy bunch; there’s dancing, not shoving (well, not much, anyway…and it depends where in the crowd you are), people take a few pictures and videos, but not so many that you can’t sing and dance around them, and the audience is always a diverse one. The band themselves, sadly now permanently without Archis, always put on a great show, and the dorky excuses Paul makes are as much a part of that as the dancing — like Axl Rose or otherwise…
The set list was an epic twenty tracks, drawn largely from their new album, but including material from their whole back catalogue. It went something like the following, though I may have the order mixed up here and there:
- What Did We Do To You To Deserve This? (RTE)
- Risk to Exist (RTE)
- The National Health (TNH)
- Books from Boxes (OEP)
- Leave This Island (TMI)
- Make What You Can (RTE)
- I Want You To Stay (ACT)
- Questing, Not Coasting (QTH)
- The Undercurrents (TNH)
- Work Then Wait (RTE)
- The Hero (RTE)
- Our Velocity (OEP)
- Alchemy (RTE)
- By the Monument (OEP)
- Going Missing (ACT)
- What Equals Love (RTE)
- Girls Who Play Guitar (OEP)
- Nosebleed (OEP)
- Apply Some Pressure (ACT)
- Get High (No I Don’t) (RTE)
Key: ACT=A Certain Trigger (2005), OEP=Our Earthly Pleasures (2007), QTH=Quicken the Heart (2009), TNH=The National Health (2012), TMI=Too Much Information (2014), RTE=Risk to Exist (2017).