As the lights dim down, the ears of the audience members waiting for We Are Scientists at the Junction are unexpectedly graced with the opening bars of Lionel Richie’s 1984 hit single, ‘Hello’. Confused smatterings of laughter abound as we collectively wonder if we’ve made it to the right gig after all. It’s an introduction that sets the tone for an equally enjoyable, if somewhat bizarre, set from the New York duo who prove more difficult to pin down than expected.
The band open with jump-inducing, three-chord thumper ‘Impatience’ – a single taken from their 2008 album Brain Thrust Mastery. It’s an appropriately cheerful number with which to open their set, but it’ll take several more tunes for the audience to warm to their hyperactive energy, which in this setting seems just a little too eager. Next track ‘Chick Lit’ comes from the same record, but the noughties vibes are power-charged this time, with liberal guitar distortion and a strobe-lit middle-eight breakdown.
The lighting and effects on this number will feature again and again in the duo’s set – with more success on some tracks than others. The opening bars of ‘We Need a Word’ overwhelmingly and bizarrely remind me of a distorted washing machine from hell, and the over-amplified bursts of shattering synth on ‘Lethal Enforcer’ clash more than the Day-Glo hues of a 1980’s ski suit. For a set composed mostly of tracks from the last decade, I’m left wondering whether the over-galvanised production of this live performance is the band’s effort to inject new life into material that’s waved goodbye to the springtime of its youth.
The rapport between frontman Keith Murray and bassist Chris Cain is evident in their set breaks, which they weirdly stage more like American chat-show segments than anything else. They spend most of this time exchanging in-jokes and one-liners with each other rather than with the crowd, directly interacting only with a single ardent Wrestlemania fan in the audience. Their jokes throughout elicit mostly confused laughter – ‘That song’s what’s known in the industry as a ‘quickie’’, says Cain, to which Murray replies ‘It’s called that in the pen industry as well!’ The format makes more sense upon discovering that the pair have dabbled in sketch comedy. Back in 2009, they starred as themselves in a series of comedy shorts entitled Steve Wants His Money on MTV. Their now-obvious effort to channel the Flight of the Conchords only adds to my mental roster of all the noughties indie acts which I can’t help being reminded of throughout their set.
It’s difficult to work out exactly who the duo are trying to emulate most – ‘cause it’s definitely somebody. With hairstyles inspired by the razored fringes of yesteryear’s pop-punk kids, paired with slim black suits raided from Hurts’ wardrobe, We Are Scientists are the most broadly ‘indie-pop’ band I’ve ever come across. Their material ranges from the scrappy Brit-pop guitars of Brianstorm-era Arctic Monkeys to the ballsy bass riffs of Fall Out Boy, powered by the sugar-rush energy of McFly and All Time Low. But as their set progresses, I start to warm unexpectedly to the tracks which ceaselessly bring these names to mind. Their music seems irrevocably yoked to scenes gone by, but ultimately the effect is endearingly nostalgic rather than tired. You can’t help but admire their energy and perseverance – even if it’s difficult to work out what exactly they’re persevering for. After ten years, I’m just pleasantly surprised to hear they’re still around.