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The Automatic, University Great Hall, Cardiff

The latest 'big thing' hasn't been this good for quite some time.

1 Jan 1970, // Rating: ****/5

The doors haven’t been open long, yet Frank Turner is already onstage for an all too short showcase of his intelligent and perceptive acoustic song writing. Songs named after Margaret Thatcher and about the Countryside Alliance (the brilliant cover of Chris TT’s ‘When The Huntsman Comes A-Marching’) may be beyond many of the young crowd, but this tour is a great place for a brilliant singer-songwriter who – despite his pedigree – is effectively starting all over again from scratch. He’ll be back early next year with a full album. If you like good song writing and brilliant music, you’ll know where to be.

Swansea’s Viva Machine (formerly Ipsofacto), are a brilliant way to liven up the crowd. Lead vocalist Chris Seacombe is a livewire front-man, full of energy and hurtling across a cluttered stage at any opportunity. For one song he leaves the rest of the band (to conjure up a far more post-rock instrumental than their poppy choruses would indicate), to hurl specially made ‘shakers’ (water bottles full of... something) into the crowd. Coming across like some kind of melding between Super Furry Animals and the headliners, this is instant party music with a far more intelligent edge than music this catchy should have.

First impression of Liverpool’s Alterkicks may be that there’s another band that own straw hats and play retro-indie you’ve heard too much of this summer. They’re a little more than that, hiding slightly more attention-requiring elements than the average NME chart-pestering band you think they sound like. Not overly exciting, but with some flashes of good guitar-work, they justify themselves being on the tour, just not being main support.

The latest 'big thing' hasn’t been this good for quite some time. Visibly improved from when they last played Cardiff only a few months ago, The Automatic seem far more at home on a big stage playing to a huge audience. Aided by spectacular lighting and a huge video-screen, they look and sound like they’ve been playing larger-capacity venues for years. They’ve certainly been busy; touring, interviews, TV, radio – they’re everywhere. Yet they’ve still had time to prepare some new material which is aired tonight. Even more pleasing is that it’s as good as anything on their début album, and bodes well for the future.

The infectious cowbell of ‘Seriously, Guys, I Hate You’, the bouncing pace of ‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’ and the hand-clapping dance-fury of ‘Team Drama’ all stop the concert from being any less than exciting. This may get mentioned in every live review of them ever written, but keyboard lunatic Pennie is an utter nutcase onstage, if he’s not on the keys he’s barking backing vocals, beating the hell out of a cowbell or leaping around the stage like a lemur on speed. Song after song is nailed and performed with passion and vigour that makes the whole band fantastic on stage.

Mercifully early, THAT single sends the crowd utterly ballistic. With many of the crowd there just for ‘Monster’, they are a little immobile at first, but THE song of the summer, if not year, sends the Great Hall into a sea of dancing, bouncing figures. This single could cause a problem for them, being so big there are a host of detractors already prepping their ‘one hit wonder’ comments. Thing is, they have a host of hits on their album; the rapturous cheers that accompany the beginning of ‘Raoul’ and ‘You Shout...’ are testament to that.
There’s been sneers from many fans of ‘alternative choice’ and underground music for their style, bizarrely claiming it sounds like everything else and many other arguments poorly covering the sheer fact they dislike The Automatic just for being popular – for having a huge hit single that has been played everywhere. This happens a lot in the British music industry. Where this band differ is that they’ve done it by simply making incredibly good music. It has all the catchiness of pop, but their influences are drawn from bands like At The Drive-In and Refused, who couldn’t be further from 'pop' if they tried. More importantly, they’ve taken these influences and worn them on their sleeves – as opposed to the many ‘alternative choice’ and underground bands simply aping their heroes – and made something incredibly accessible and certainly original.

The test will come with their second album. The people here tonight only for 'Monster' and their superb cover of Kanye West’s ‘Gold-Digger’ will move on, but if they keep writing songs as fantastic as ‘That’s What She Said’ with it’s immense chugging guitar breaks, ‘By My Side’ tempting you to both dance and mosh, and the glorious set closer ‘Recover’, then they’ll keep writing hits, they'll keep filling venues, and they’ll not stop being a brilliant band – on record or stage – any time soon.Phillip May