Review: The Maccabees at The Corn Exchange

Olivia Fletcher 25 November 2015

Since their formation twelve years ago, The Maccabees have seen friends such as Florence Welch and Foals rise to stardom while never quite breaking free of the second tier of British rock themselves. However, the release of their fourth LP ‘Marks To Prove It’ in July brought about a change in momentum for the group. The album hit UK Number 1 and was generally hailed by critics as their finest work to date.

The record is certainly a mature offering from a band that has grown into its sound. Crafted over the course of nearly three years, the album benefitted from a long process of revision and reiteration. The result is a collection of songs that hovers agreeably between familiarity and unfamiliarity. They are unmistakably a guitar band, but they do things a little differently. Whether it be the effect-laden, almost kazoo-like riff that underpins ‘River Song’ or frontman Orlando Weeks’ quivering vocal on ‘Kamakura’, their sound is at once conventional and unpredictable.  While there is little that is revolutionary about the group, it’s hard to name a band that captures quite the same brand of melodic indie rock.

It was somewhat surprising The Maccabees didn’t sell out at the Corn Exchange on Sunday. This is particularly true considering that a third date has been added to sell-out shows at Brixton Academy next January. Despite the smaller crowd in Cambridge, the atmosphere wasn’t lacking when the group kicked off with lively album opener ‘Marks To Prove It’. In fact, the extra space on the floor seemed to be welcomed by the dancing audience. 

(Image Credit: Thomas Day:Photographer)

While underpinned by hits from the new album, the 19-song set made full use of the band’s back catalogue. ‘No Kind Words’ from sophomore album ‘Wall of Arms’ was a certain highlight, provoking a widespread chant of “If you’ve got no kind words to say, then you should say nothing more at all”. Advice I’ll do my best to follow, Orlando.

Slow-burning anthems ‘Something Like Happiness’ and ‘WW1 Portraits’ provided a change in tempo but not a lack of intensity. Some early volume issues aside, it would be unfair to say that the band produced anything other than a polished and energetic set. It was apparent that a huge amount of energy had gone into its design; the five-piece was joined by an additional drummer to offer variation in texture and the light show was both inventive and dynamic. 

Perhaps it was because of this evident effort that the lack of audience interaction was so disappointing. Orlando, known for being a bit of an enigma, hid behind his lyrics and failed to utter a single word between songs. While there may be something intriguing about a band that lets their music do the talking, a bit of interaction could well have driven the night into top gear. It seems harsh to say it, but it was more of a performance than a show. If the Maccabees are to make it as the best of British, they must learn to feed off the energy of the audience and offer it back. If not, the biggest stages – Wembley Arena and Glastonbury’s Pyramid – may remain just out of reach.