Magic Kids & Allo Darlin’ @ Camden Barfly

by MV

Here’s another one of those occasional gig review things that currently seem to be outnumbering “real” posts on this here blog. Anyway, I went to see Magic Kids and Allo Darlin’ – a bit more twee than the general theme around here, but all very pleasant…

As summer comes to a close once more, what better way to see it out that with a transatlantic twee double-bill in central London. The rain may be pouring outside, but a night in with London-based Aussies Allo Darlin’ and Memphis’ Magic Kids should soon sort that out.

Camden’s Barfly, an awkwardly-cramped scene stalwart that’s really showing its age, isn’t the ideal venue in which to experience this late burst of musical sunshine. It’s hard to feel truly transported to a sun-drenched idyll when the L-shaped venue is full to bursting and you’re pinned against the bar with your plastic beaker of warm lager.

Still, there’s much to be gleaned about the relative status of indie-pop in London and the States tonight. Allo Darlin’, despite antipodean origins, typify the British corner. Singer Elizabeth Morris, who possesses a rich, charming voice on record, turns floor-staring mumbler on stage, and the band follow in ramshackle suit. It’s all very endearing and lovely, but there are times when you wish they’d fulfil their pop potential so glaringly evident on record.

While you’re occasionally forced to retrofit your knowledge of what the songs actually sound like to the barely audible thrum on stage, it’s still an ultimately rewarding experience. Shambolic it may be, but Morris is such an undeniable charmer that there’s a warmth to things that cuts through any slight sound-related disappointment. Their best single so far, Dreaming, may be surprisingly absent, but there are still more than enough gems scattered through the set to convince you that there’s lots to love about Allo Darlin’.

Early in the set we get The Polaroid Song, already an indiepop disco classic, a featherweight, carefree ditty about dancing alone. Later, there’s Kiss Your Lips, which follows a similar pattern but brightened yet further with a spot of Weezer karaoke in its midst. Then there are the swoonsome moments – songs of longing and disappointment – of which Let’s Go Swimming is the clear standout. While the setting may not be perfect, and there’s a touch of the half-arsed about proceedings, you’re definitely left wanting more, and that can never be a bad thing.

Magic Kids are a bunch of evident Beach Boys acolytes from Tennessee, paying an early visit to the UK on the back of some slowly building hype over the last year or so, largely thanks to their gloriously out of time ‘Hey Boy’ single. There’s an immediate difference in their approach: a sense that, while what they do may be much more derivative, they are in no sense apologising for it. There’s a cool confidence about them that ultimately translates into less of a connection than the previous act, and a preppy style that somehow makes them immediately seem more studied and calculatingly ambitious.

Having said that, there’s also a difference in the way they translate their material into a live context. While Allo Darlin’ convert a decent record into a slightly flawed live experience, Magic Kids add weight to their relatively flimsy Memphis album in the live arena. Tracks that sound thin and borderline irritating on record, like Superball and Good to Be, become sparkly, daft, singalong gems that could have fallen off a 90s Super Furries record. Hey Boy is tossed off early in the set, with little ceremony, giving further hints at the band’s self-assurance. It’s not even the best thing on show.

Their debut album’s most ambitious track is Summer, an ambling beauty that starts off sounding like an outtake from an imaginary album Vampire Weekend might make in five years’ time, before transmuting into a glorious slice of peak-Pet Sounds as passed though a Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci filter. Tonight, it suffers under its own relative complexity, but still heralds a shift in the set that sees violinist Alice taking more of a central role. The music takes an appropriate leap away from its early Beach Boys roots and into something a bit more rewarding.

Overall, it’s a good night, slightly blighted by a venue that’s well past its best, but definitely blessed with a pair of immediately likeable bands. Whether either of them cross over into a more mainstream arena remains to be seen, with Magic Kids’ newer material and general air of professional (bordering, but not quite hitting, cynical) determination making them the more likely candidates. Allo Darlin’, though, are a local London treasure in waiting, and most definitely worth catching at any of the many opportunities you’ll have to see them around the capital.

Review originally posted on Glasswerk.

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