It must be difficult to enthuse a crowd with punchy verve and vitality when they’ve stood in the rain for twenty minutes, but two queues filled into the Carling Academy burdened with umbrellas and Bank Holiday Monday hangovers regardless. The ceaseless stream of middle-class cardigans, skinny jeans and cutting edge facial hair heading towards the Rodrigo y Gabriela stage suggested a monumental band with an eclectic sound would be playing somewhere in the shadows; the enviable glances cast sideways by dripping faces in the second, smaller queue intimated it was not going to be Grace.
Ironically, if you missed the opening support act, Ecuador, you missed the whole show. The local five-piece were turned out to perfection; women’s swoons were as audible as the threatening, yet compelling bass that instantly energised a beleaguered crowd. Two front men, both broody and mysterious, shared vocals and blended addictive, guttural confidence with the melancholy of a unique and plaintive voice; sultry and drum-led one moment, reflective Spanish classical the next – yet unique throughout. With the crowd now buoyant and enamoured, it was hard not to be sceptical about whether this audience had paid with the intention of seeing the main act at all.
Why no record company has scratched the surface of the city’s vibrant music scene to unearth this gem is bewildering. As Ecuador ruefully declined the demand and clamour for an encore, the fans left in droves.
An audience that departs before the headlining act is willing to tempt the inevitable fate that the band they turned down the chance to see will surf the wave of catchy hairstyle and airplay bombardment, and become the next Kooks, Keane or Killers within an album release. Either that or they are extremely confident in the gamble they can make it home before the cricket highlights begin on channel Five.
Looking like The Feeling, Grace arrived on stage to a crowd of ten and their ‘Hi, we’re from London’ welcome triggered the departure home of a handful more spectators. Seeing the band’s overwhelming disappointment was as depressing as watching my next door neighbour hang his clothes out to dry in the driving rain. A refined sound and polished image is meaningless when your entire Liverpudlian fan base could watch you perform from the same sofa and, although Americana like this may sound catchy after a few appearances on Radio One, no radio can broadcast to an empty living room for long.
Whether Grace survived the forlorn atmosphere, I’ll never know; I took my chance with the cricket