Tribes @ Electric Ballroom, London 28/10/11
November 2, 2011 by Tshepo Mokoena
On the Friday before proper Halloween, this Camden four-piece returned to their old stomping ground to play a packed-out show. The excitement in the room was practically bubbling over by the time they took to the stage, with their fans squeezing into the ‘front row’ area and spilling over the balcony levels to catch a glimpse of the indie boys.
And so they appeared, with lead singer Johnny Lloyd dressed in what can only be described as a dress-like smock. When he lifted his guitar over his head and stepped towards the mic, the first words he uttered were “Wow, there are a lot of you here, huh?”. It’s the type of barely shielded egoism that went on to pepper their entire set. But that’s another story. Performance-wise they got stuck right in and didn’t faff around with lots of guitar-fiddling and ‘hey sound guy can we talk about this?’ shuffling. That was a good sign. They clearly have chosen to build their reputation based on their live shows and ability to just pick up and play, as opposed to working from Soundcloud links floating around the net.
However, none of that really mattered when the content of their songs largely left me wincing. Tribes aren’t out to reinvent the wheel by any standard but don’t even seem that bothered about making their wheel look shiny and nice. Their single Sappho was played well and clearly well-rehearsed but relied on the types of predictable chord progressions that have been the cornerstone of pop for decades now. The kind of chord patterns that gave the Axis Of Awesome a reason to exist.
From one song to the next their technical transitions were strong, but there was always the sense that a real emotional connect had somehow slipped out of the set. When Lloyd sang into what were meant to be the powerful moments of an unplugged track it often came off somehow forced. Perhaps due to the limitations of the kind of music they play, little about the set felt particularly fresh, and even less felt refreshing. It was as though they had misinterpreted the ‘only three chords need make up a song’ saying as ‘only about three topics need make up a song’s lyrics’. With the excellent sound mixed in the venue, it was hard to ignore the Razorlight-like playground rhymes and lack of adventure in the set’s song content.
Sadly, simply writing down and singing about one’s experiences doesn’t automatically make them artistically important nor does it instantly validate them. And when trying to find the merit in a phrase like “I wanna get drunk with my friends outside / I wanna make friends with people I don’t like”, it gets difficult to stay positive. Still, given the overall lacklustre content of the songs the energy in the room was nonetheless electric. Whether getting knocked into by juiced-up groups of balding men or hesitantly danced next to by younger fans, I couldn’t deny that Tribes have a devoted and fun-loving crowd at their disposal.
Overall they played with gusto and fervour but couldn’t live up to the one missing ingredient: original-sounding, well-written material.