Little Comets – o2 Academy, Oxford

“Little Comets…I think I’ve heard of them—haven’t they got that one really famous song? Yeah that’s it.” The half enthusiastic and half I-don’t-really-care response I got from approx half of the friends I promo’d last Thursday’s Little Comets gig to. Against this stream of responses, a fellow enthusiast pitched in: “but they’re just SO HAPPY”. I certainly agree. Little Comets’ unique and spirit-lifting brand of indie-pop, combining experimental guitar lines and a dismissal of over-used time signatures, surely does deserve more recognition besides that ‘one really famous song’. And added to the awkward reality that the now popular Catfish and the Bottlemen once supported the band, their criminally under-rated status is a bit of a shame for these loveable Northerners.

Nevertheless, armed with puffer jackets and over-priced beer to brave the cold, a remarkably hefty crowd filled the Oxford o2 Academy for the first night of their UK tour. Everyone’s here, from the glitter-faced teens to the middle-aged diehard fans who’ve been loyal since the band’s early beginnings. Warming the gig-goers with their summery and Vampire-Weekend-esque melodies, Little Comets’ vibrant performance restores the hope that it really is possible to get a festival feeling in February—let alone on the brink of fifth week [that’s halfway through term, for non-Oxford folks – Ed.].

The family-friendly indie-pop band Eliza and the Bear provides a suitable opener for the main event. They get the crowd going with anthemic mood-boosters with titles such as ‘Light It Up’. We’re just twenty minutes in and it’s suddenly t-shirt weather again: heads are bopping and hands are in the air. Eliza and the Bear’s keyboardist Callie Noakes was undoubtedly the highlight of my evening—I have never seen someone sit-down-dance as energetically as him. It’s infectious.

Then the ‘Elusive Little Comets’ from the debut album title come out of hibernation and perform a truly brilliant set, achieving that satisfying balance between new material and great classics. They kick off with ‘A Little Opus’ and though a little tentative at first, by the second chorus, the band has found their place, nudged along by their fast-paced rhythms. The crowd happily joins in, belting out the lyrics and clapping along to the tropical beats of ‘Tricolour’ and ‘Little Italy’. Soon after the crowd sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to both bassist Matt Hall and keyboardist Matt Saxton, two lovely hecklers chimed in with the charming lines, “What the fuck are you saying? Get on with the music.” (Why oh why, Oxford? See Caspar’s Honeyblood review for a similar sad and unnecessary instance of crowd participation).

Being a little too used to ear-splittingly loud gigs, it’s remarkably pleasant and somewhat surprising to actually be able to make out all the lyrics. Saying this is merely pop music would be doing this band a great disservice—there’s something quietly intelligent and mindfully crafted about their song-writing talent. Dare I say ‘literate’? “A Little Opus” is a poetic critique of private education and limited opportunities, which despairingly strikes a familiar note here in Oxford:

“I’d rather starve
Than become a member
Of your old boy’s club
Sooner Depart
Than see the ascension of the Bullingdon
Because I want to breakthrough
A tired addendum
To working hard

Clouded by upbeat rhythms and glittering chords, you would forget what you’re dancing to.

Inciting an impromptu mosh pit, ‘Dancing Song’ is an obvious crowd-pleaser to close the show, and the band finish without an encore. They may not yet think they’re deserving of one, but the looks on the fans’ faces as they wander out of the venue predict Little Comets will continue to be a force in British music for many years to come. Or, at the very least, in my mate Frazer’s words, an ebullient hour of their splendour on stage will be sure to make many more audiences ‘SO HAPPY’. It was the year anniversary of Viola Beach’s accident a few days ago, and, having been solemnly reminded of the way this supportive system of indie artists and listeners finds a special resonance in everyone’s lives, it is only more apparent to me how important it is to go to gigs—to engage with the artist and find out what they’re all about.

-- Georgina Quach, February 16, 2017