Big Deal have made the best record released this year.
A quick look at iTunes tells me I have listened to it 36 times since June, although that doesn’t count the endless rotation in my car (I don’t think I have changed the CD since it came out) and the vinyl version that rarely leaves the turntable.
I can’t remember the last time I played a record so many times, to the point where I know every inch of it, every chord change, every lyric, where you start to hear little melodies and flourishes that you’re not entirely sure are even there. That was how I fell in love with records when I was thirteen, when my meagre pocket money would only stretch to a handful of albums on cassette across a year and I’d play them until they were worn out and the tape snapped. I’m thirty six in two weeks – I shouldn’t be doing this at my age. But in 2013, where I could be listening to absolutely any song, for free, there’s been something unbelievably rewarding, even life affirming, to become so immersed in a single record.
This aside, ‘June Gloom’ is no mere fluke – their debut, ‘Lights Out’ was one of the best records released in 2011. Clearly, there’s something going on here. So when a band with two superlative albums sail into a town not accustomed to receiving such illustrious guests, you’d expect pandemonium. Impromptu street parties. People swinging from chandeliers. That kind of thing.
Sadly, as my friend and I sit in an icily empty club in the home of rock n’ roll – High Wycombe University – on a grey sofa under a poster for the new Jackass film, watching the light pattern change colour while the DJ morosely spins what sounds alarmingly like Soundgarden, it becomes clear that the news of Big Deal’s arrival has clearly not permeated this bastion of education. By the time the band arrive on stage, the place has filled out a bit, and approximately ten people (almost a third of which are in the support band) are assembled, shivering in coats to witness what should be a rabidly received victory lap for the ‘June Gloom’ LP.
Whereas lesser bands might treat this disgraceful injustice as an excuse for sullen ‘I will not tidy my room’ posturing, Alice, KC and co approach the situation with extraordinary grace and end up pulling off a minor triumph. Kicking off with new single ‘Swapping Spit’, the band are grinning ear to ear, having clearly realised that the only way to deal with this situation is to melt our faces off. It’s like they have transported the Brixton Academy sound system into a room smaller than Dingwalls.
With ‘Dream Machines’ following up, it feels like we’re watching a private greatest hits set performed for just for us, like some kind of deranged Emirate’s birthday party, swapping Elton John for Big Deal and the golden palace for a drizzly night in High Wycombe.
The band hit on the inspired idea of dealing with the sparse attendance by promising to dedicate a song to each of the audience and offering a prize of two rather forlorn looking segments of a tangerine to the best audience member.
And so it proceeds. Charm – melt faces – charm – melt faces – charm – melt faces. It occurs to me that this is exactly the reason why I love ‘June Gloom’ so much, with its golden harmonies, sweetly sad lyrics and swathes of thick, ragged guitar. ‘Pterodactyl’ follows – none more face-melt – the single that would have made ‘MBV’ a more memorable experience. There’s a colossal roar that sounds like the sky being torn open, KC and Alice hit the high note on the ‘come on let’s go’ and the show begins to tip towards triumph.
From this point on, Big Deal have turned it round and the place is warmer in every sense. Word about the tangerine seems to have spread like wildfire amongst the local student community and at least thirty of them are now witnessing the mesmeric spectacle of the UK’s best new(ish) band in full stride, jaws agape. I get my dedication, a full band version of ‘Locked Up’, which I promise to myself I won’t tweet about for fear of looking like an overexcited fifteen year old, but then do anyway.
Giggly versions of ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ and ‘In Your Car’ lead into the final song, a fuzzed up take on ‘Talk’.
It feels like we’ve shared a private party as squished up tangerine bits find their way into the crowd and the band leave the stage, hopefully on their way to a venue or at least a future where unimaginably vast crowds await, showering them with apes, peacocks and ivory.
They clearly deserve so much more but watching such a magnificent band in such a tiny venue alongside a small gathering of believers was a rare treat, the kind of experience that can’t be bought. It can though and it will only cost you a fiver.