Bombay Bicycle Club, Wilderness Festival, review: an uplifting, confetti-filled return for these indie superstars
When Bombay Bicycle Club – the band, not the North London Indian restaurant – formed in 2005, its members were 15. Quiet, seemingly desultory schoolboys from London's Crouch End, they were catapulted to prominence through one of those New Band competitions that rarely offer the kind of success the band have enjoyed: four albums within five years, three made the Top 10, the last reaching Number One. By the time they were 24, Bombay Bicycle Club had played to 10,000 people at their hometown venue Alexandra Palace.
Which might explain why the indie rock quartet took a break. Since the beginning of 2016 they’ve been absent, pursuing solo side projects or, in the case of guitarist Jamie MacColl (nephew of Kirsty, son of Neill, grandson of Ewan and Peggy Seeger), studying political science.
Their reunion gig – the opening headliner slot of Wilderness festival in Oxfordshire – was something none of them thought would happen; not so soon, at least. Turns out they just wanted to make music together again more swiftly than they had anticipated.
Funny things have happened to guitar music during Bombay Bicycle Club’s absence. It’s faded away from the fashionable stages as grime, hip-hop, alt R&B and synth-driven pop have taken centre stage.
Ever since emerging to support lost indie darlings Cajun Dance Party in 2007, Bombay Bicycle Club have been trapped with the albatross of making jangly indie pop. But they are far more experimental, far darker than that. They rivet together propulsive, charged cacophonies of bass and keys and brass with delicate verses that sting with vulnerability.
So it was a little peculiar, and refreshing, to see them take to such a major stage so well, after what feels like an eternity – their hiatus preceded the EU referendum, after all. Aside from the frequent giddy confetti explosions and a few sparkling pyros on stage, there was little showy about Bombay Bicycle Club’s reunion: the Wilderness crowd, famously encouraged to dress up, outshone their subdued button-downs and bookish spectacles.
But the music that erupted was celebratory and determined all at once. Jack Steadman’s vocals are golden and light, like liquid sunshine. They cut through the crowd singalong on cult singles such as Shuffle (2011) and early favourite What If? Steadman manages to take the whimsical philosophy central to the indie canon and delicately dowse it with feeling.
Over the course of the set their musicianship was clear, the way the group lattice their songs together in layers of sound and feeling that build and peel away. The end result is complex music that on record may sound high-minded but live, on an evening like this, managed to manipulate a crowd to swoon and whoop, to sing along even with instrumental riffs. At times, they recalled a far more polite Stone Roses, those jangling toplines becoming subsumed by near-psychedelic wig-outs. New song Eat Sleep Wake suggested that the album they are releasing next year will offer more of the same.
Will Bombay Bicycle Club’s return save guitar music from the doldrums? Watching them again brings to mind the indie acts that have followed in their wake and succeeded: Glass Animals, Circa Waves, Lucy Rose (to whom they gave a leg-up). This show suggested it wasn’t an impossibility; perhaps 2020 will see rock’s return.
An encore cover of Robyn’s Every Heartbeat, featuring Liz Lawrence, was a deft and graceful tribute to the Swedish pop star who will take their slot on Saturday night. It suggested they thought they were the warm-up. But this reunion was a special and hopeful thing; Bombay Bicycle Club’s return is an exciting one.