Despite what the British music press sometimes might have you believe, Britpop did not start and end with endless indie bands pillaging the sixties for their guitar riffs and songs. The odd band transcended that mere idea, of course (two of which I’ve seen again in recent months: Suede and Pulp), but more so than that, there were other bands doing very different things who somehow got lumped in with the Britpop movement, which broadened the sounds available somewhat and better still, brought some bands to popular attention that otherwise might never had the kind of exposure they needed.
One of those bands was Dubstar. Their dreamy, sweet electropop took influences from unexpected places, from bands/acts like Cocteau Twins and Billy Bragg – and even reggae influences appeared too – making it clear that they had little in common with bands like Oasis or Blur. Listening to them again before the show, and since, reminded me that the fact that they were quite different to their peers has perhaps meant that some songs at least have aged much better than others of their time.
The same could be said for the band themselves. None of them looked to have aged particularly, especially frontwoman Sarah Blackwood, who took to the stage rather gingerly, which was revealed a few songs in to be something of an attack of the nerves – quite something for a frontwoman of bands for twenty years now!
But then, going on the crowd – and how fast this London comeback show sold-out – there was a heck of an expectation. Clearly, to the many devoted (mainly male, from the looks of things) fans down the front, this was a much-loved and missed band returning at last, and the band appeared to recognise this in leaning heavily on playing the old favourites across the set.
The “old favourites”, as they were, didn’t appear immediately, mind. Instead the opener to the set was an extraordinary, icy cover of new-wave one-hit-wonder I’m in Love With a German Filmstar, the first track released by the reunited band, before delving into old songs pretty quickly. One of the joys of a band revisiting the past like this is that it brings songs perhaps long-forgotten to your attention, and this was certainly the case here.
I’m in Love With a German Film Star
The View From Here
St. Swithin’s Day
I Lost a Friend
Window Pain [new song]
Not So Manic Now
No More Talk
Superstar [new song]
Just a Girl She Said
The Self Same Thing
In The End
Glories like the strange, dark tale of random violence and mental illness of Not So Manic Now, and the sarcastic, deeply cynical Just a Girl She Said, both reminded me of another thing about Dubstar, too. While bright and pop-sounding for the most part, Sarah’s lyrics, delivered in a wonderfully quasi-disinterested tone, are much darker and morose than they first appear, with many situations detailed in the songs being deeply melancholic.
That maybe is why I loved this band so in the first place, and why this gig did such a good job of rekindling that love. Nothing is quite what it seems, and the fragile brilliance of the whole thing was shown up most obviously later on, with Sarah unable to finish her vocals to a gorgeously sad Ghost as she burst into tears. What was more remarkable was the reaction from the crowd, cheering and clapping her to keep going – and the crowd were then rewarded with a – still – quite extraordinary last song in the shape of the minor hit Stars, one of those moments of pop perfection that left me grinning with joy.
There were even new songs, too, which fitted in nicely, and perhaps were more in the vein of first album material than later material – definitely a good thing. But more importantly, this was a show that was something of a statement. Dubstar are back, despite probably pretty long odds, and are every bit as good as they were in the first place – some feat after nearly two decades. The new album, apparently due later this year, is awaited with great interest.