This wasn’t how I imagined the first time would be. Shouldn’t we be staring at Chris Martin with binoculars from a cricket-ground corner or craning our necks to see the latest dub-step heroes in a sweaty club?
I was hoping my 13-year-old son’s opening concert would be a memorable experience for both of us. A watershed, rite of passage—call it what you want.
My gig-going debut with my parents was a bizarre trip to watch Cliff Richard on a gospel tour in some Midlands nightspot back in the 80s. A Big Country show was my first teenage mosh-pit encounter, but even then my mate’s dad was at the back of Wolverhampton Civic Hall with cotton wool in his ears.
So when my brother had to pull out of going to see Hot Chip in Birmingham, and I couldn’t find a speedy replacement, I was in two minds about asking Dan along. Not only was it a school night, but did I really want his debut to be to see one of his dad’s favourite bands who, despite their electronic innovation, aren’t exactly teen-cool staples?
He was up for it so off we went, arriving a bit early to a fairly empty Academy. After a wander around the dark venue—and a failed attempt to gatecrash the stalls—we settled down to support “Disclosure.” A pair of track-suited siblings with baby faces and lap tops, influenced by acid house and R&B, they’d also been getting some Radio One airplay, and weren’t half-bad.
By the time Hot Chip arrived, we were still only a few rows from the front, but now surrounded by a couple of thousand eager fans. There were quite a few students intermingled with the IT engineers but Dan appeared easily the youngest—and smallest—there. Flanked by myself and my math teacher mate Paul, I braced myself to resist the first beat-induced dance-wave which might knock Dan off his feet.
The London group are definitely more muscular live—as opener “Shake a Fist”’s tribal beats displayed—but this was a pretty restrained crowd for starters, until the tallest bloke in the venue pushed in front of us and proceeded to dance all over Dan, elbowing him in the head. I tapped his back and asked him to be careful, and all was well when he wandered of for a pee/pint shortly afterwards.
At least, Hot Chip’s middle-aged appearance augured well for me and Paul. Not even trying to look hip (bassist Grosvenor was a startling double of our old church treasurer), the group took me aback with their tightness and force. It’s sadly rare to see a band so clearly enjoying themselves, bringing out the on-record essence of songs like “Boy from School” and “How Do You Do?” but also transforming them into brighter, bigger pieces live. And keyboardist Owen Clarke’s dancing was almost as embarrassing as mine. At least Dan couldn’t see me getting down behind him.
The crowd revved up for best-known track “Over and Over” which was unexpectedly dropped right in the middle of the set. I managed to barricade Dan from the first crowd surge but we were caught off guard a couple of times with incoming body charges from the flanks. By now the generation gap seemed irrelevant and, if it did exist, was stretched to the limits when “Ready For The Floor” triumphantly segued into 80s Fleetwood Mac hit “Everywhere,” a Top 10 tune when I was Dan’s age.
The cold rain came as a relief when we eventually left the humid venue, hoodies up (we were accidentally wearing near-identical brown tops which didn’t bother Dan because none of his mates were there to see it). It wasn’t long before my son was dozing in the back seat.
Half an hour later, off he trooped to bed. Teenagers aren’t always the most expressive but I knew Hot Chip had left a mark when, the next night, I popped into his room. He was watching his favourite TV show, “Waterloo Road,” which had a familiar song as a soundtrack. “Dad,” exclaimed Dan, “It’s Hot Chip!”
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Image courtesy of the author