Monday, October 31, 2022

Lightning Strikes at the Oxford O2

Back in the 1990s, the post-punk britpop band The Lightning Seeds were big. 

With a nod to their Northern heritage, the jangly, upbeat melodies paired with optimistic, cheerful lyrics were a welcome contrast to the grittier, heavier approach of contemporaries such as Oasis whilst also incorporating the spirit of the most famous of Liverpool-born bands, The Beatles.

The Lightning Seeds were formed way back in 1989 by singer, songwriter and accomplished producer Ian Broudie, with the bulk of their chart success coming through the mid to late 90s and perhaps peaking in 1996 with what is sadly their best known release and only number one in the charts, ‘Three Lions’, the football anthem written for the 1996 European Cup and performed with the comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel. ‘Sadly’ is the word to use because the almost superficial purpose of ‘Three Lions’ eclipses the talent of Broudie as a writer and performer.

Playing live at the O2 Academy gave Broudie free reign to showcase that talent, with a capacity audience rammed in like sardines, bouncing and cheering along to the effervescent melodies and cheerful lyrics, delivered in an oddly dour and matter-of-fact style. With the briefest of interactions with the crowd, Broudie tore through a set spanning the entire catalogue like an avalanche tearing through an Alpine village.

Supported by Badly Drawn Boy, The Lightning Seeds played for around 90 minutes, opening with a recent release, ‘Sunshine’, which set the tone for the evening’s upbeat, post-COVID theme. At one point, Broudie referenced an earlier tour as a potential ‘super spreader’ event, again emphasising what the crowd had been missing over the two years that live music, along with all other social events, ground to a halt. Broudie mentioned that he had used the time during lockdown to work on the recently released album ‘See You in the Stars’.

The peak of the Seeds’ chart success came with the 1994 album ‘Jollification’ and so a large chunk of the set list was taken from that collection which pleased the crowd no end. The evening’s performance didn’t really have any highs or lows, no significant gear changes to push the energy levels in the room, no quiet numbers to give the audience a break. Aside from occasionally changing between acoustic and electric guitars, Broudie pushed relentlessly through one bouncy Britpop hit after another.

Another song from the new album, ‘Great to Be Alive’ pushed home the message that we should all think ourselves lucky to have survived the pandemic and that there’s much to celebrate in the new normal.

Normality is often a theme of Broudie’s songwriting, with lyrics delving into the mundane and everyday to give a grounded quality to his songwriting. ‘Feeling Lazy’ is such an example; “Mr Johnson’s car gets the weekend shine / And it’s so fine / Music plays on radios / And Lisa in the garden singing to the washing line / Well never mind / People do the strangest things”. To be fair, it doesn’t have the gritty realism of lyrics from the likes of Marc Almond or Paul Heaton but it still makes the songs relatable, and is a welcome respite from the typical theme of pop songs - love.

When Broudie does dip into that subject matter, the trademark cheery tone and everyday context still prevails, as in arguably one of the Seeds’ best songs, ‘Sense’. “I’m standing high on tiptoes looking over fences / Waiting for somebody like you to kiss me senseless / I’ve had a bellyfull of faces drawn in sadness / I want to jump deep into tides of loving madness”.

After a roaring, relentless finale of ‘Sugar Coated Iceberg’, ‘The Life of Riley’ and ‘Pure’, the band took a break but the absence of house lights and the noise from the crowd showed that more was yet to come, which came predictably in the shape of the one song noticeably missing from the set list - ‘Marvellous’ - a song about the limitless potential of life and a call to action to stop thinking about what you might do and instead to get up and do it. Yet again, more lyrics to raise the spirits; “Things could be marvellous / Things could be fabulous / Oh - well these are the days and this is the life / There’ll always be something on your mind / You’ll never quite find / Won’t you ever make your mind up?

The evening could have easily ended there and the crowd would have been content, yet the band were ready for one more, even though there was no obvious omission. The answer came as the opening guitar chords transformed the O2 Academy into Wembley Stadium. Fans climbed onto each others’ shoulders and the energy level suddenly went through the roof as the odd combination of Britpop fandom and football fandom coalesced into nothing short of hysteria.

Overall, a terrific end to a nicely curated showcase of a band that were big, but really deserved to be a lot bigger. Maybe with the new album, lightning will strike twice.

Peter Freeth /

Images: Peter Freeth

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