It’s seven-thirty on a Thursday night, and I’m in line to see a band I hadn’t heard of until this week: The Night Café. The Liverpool up-and-comers have released about as many songs as I can count on two hands, and yet they’re here at the Bullingdon as part of their UK tour. They’re young and upbeat, and I’m excited to see what their live set has to offer.
Once we’re inside, I decide to poke around (this is my first time in the venue). With purpose in my step and a Guinness in my hand I glide by the merch table, noting with particular approval a T-Shirt with the words “The Night Café” in flaming font reminiscent of 2003 Word Art. The walls are black-painted brick, and for some reason the words “PBN BONES” appear intermittently in white graffiti.
The show begins with a set by local outfit The White Lakes, and they are everything an opener should be. They are high-energy, readily engaging with the audience. They wear mostly in black, some in suit jackets and eyeliner. They ask the crowd to sing the lyrics if they know them, to put their lighters up, to clap along. At the end of their closer, “Salt,” a well-timed burst of confetti rains down on the crowd. It’s a nice touch.
“Chocolate” by The 1975 plays in between sets, and the crowd sings along enthusiastically. Plaza, from Hartlepool, is up next. They are a burlier bunch, clad in sweatshirts and rain jackets. Their sound is markedly moodier—a darker post-indie—with growly vocals accentuated by a drumpad and autotune. A highlight: “Speak It.”
By nine-thirty, when The Night Café comes on, the crowd is roaring. The opener is “The Way of Mary,” an ode to marijuana with some delightfully rhythmic decrials of hard drugs: “I know a couple of kids/With their minds on Class As/And a jagged at the edge/And a touch of cocaine.”
In seconds, I turn from fly-on-the-wall to guy in a mosh, and experience first-hand the energy TNC can imbue in a crowd.
In a time where regional accents in music are swapped out for neutralized halfway-American affectations, there’s something satisfying about hearing lead singer Sean Martin sing with tinges of Scouse, particularly on “Mary.” In between songs, he addresses the crowd, his spoken accent more prominent: “Last time we were here maybe eighty people came.” Today there are at least two hundred.
The majority of the band’s work merge joyous instrumentals with lyrics about youth, relationship, and angst. The drums take up a nice space, the harmonies work, and the verby, delayed guitars soar. The group is comfortable as a unit (they have been playing with each other since 2013) and they don’t overplay. Somehow, they remind me of Hippo Campus, another young band from across the pond.
So far, I’ve been watching the show from the side, taking notes on my phone. When the last few songs are played though, I decide to push my way into the crowd. In seconds, I turn from fly-on-the-wall to guy in a mosh, and experience firsthand the energy TNC can imbue in a crowd. Coming from Boston, MA, the idea of moshing at an indie show is alien to me, but the rules are different here. The energy of songs like “Together” and the catchy choruses of songs like “Addicted” end the show on a high note.
There are resounding calls for an encore, to no avail. The band leaves the stage, only for one member to dash back on and promptly remove wires from the speaker—a final confirmation. The lights brighten and Tears for Fears begins to play in the background.
As I tie up my shoes and wonder how so much gum and strange hair has ended up on my laces, I conclude that, in all, The Night Café have been a lot of fun. Their live show lives up to the easy energy of their recorded tracks, and they are talented though not groundbreaking. Time will tell us if continue to build on this early promise. I, for one, will be keeping an eye out for a debut album.
The Night Café is in the midst of headlining tour of the UK. They will be supporting The Wombats on tour in March.