It’s hard to prize people away from their duvets in the dark depths of British winter, even with the promise of mulled wine or a pile of Yorkshire puddings, you are largely flogging a dead horse. Shepherds Bush O2 Empire though, found itself in a privileged position when, on one of the coldest nights of year, the queue to get through its doors was winding half way down the street. So what was all the buzz about? The Temper Trap were back in the UK and this gig was something of a homecoming. It might have been precariously icey outside but inside the O2 the walls were dripping with the anticipatory buzz of a spectacle.
The quartet arrive on their stage in a flurry of metal hair and blue lights. The platform itself is simple, not overly embellished or decorated but a just space for The Temper Trap to be who they are. Clearly here they are the work of art and there is no need for anything else.
Drummer Toby Dundas and bassist Jonathan Ahern set their scene with a low throbbing beat. It rattles through the floorboards of the Empire, and as Jo Greer’s synthy melodies fill the air, it’s not hard to see why the 02 is quite so full. Lead singer Dougy Mandagi opens his mouth to deliver an impressive set of vocals that sit somewhere between choir boy and the Red Hot Chilis. Amidst the low light of the stage one thing is clear, The Temper Trap are back and they’ve refined their ‘thing’ to the nth degree.
The show kicks off in the gloom of the blue lights with the livelier track, ‘Thick as Thieves’, from the band’s most recent third album of the same name. Perhaps the vivacity of said track doesn’t quite fit the mysticism of the stormy stage lights but it is met with a warm applause nonetheless. Characteristically, Mandagi’s colossal vocal range absorbs the crowd before the song even hits its peak; the front row throwing back their heads in an attempt at a sing along, though little do they know that they don’t stand a chance. Mandagi’s voice is, as ever, not of this mortal plane and, since the band formed in 2005, he has had ample time to perfect his long reaching high to low pitch changes. Never is this more apparent than in the flesh, live in a venue that perfectly matches his quirk and personality.
Of course a nice smattering of Temper Trap nostalgia never goes without notice, especially with a back catalogue of three very solid albums. And, as ever the critically acclaimed 2010 single ‘Love Lost’ had the evening’s crowd hook line and sinker. There’s something about that raw energy that can only be captured when a successful band strip things back to their early roots.
That isn’t to say that there is anything missing from their more recent work. In fact the bulk of their newer tracks have something about them that is much more reminiscent of the band’s first album Conditions. Newer tracks aren’t quite so M83, they lose their soundscape quality to a heavier, twangier bass and a good amount of ear worm guitar riffs. Live, this transition is marked by chopping and changing between albums which, in turn maps out their evolutionary process and certainly keeps things interesting. Their more recent music is perhaps a little less experimental but it’s clear that they have reached a comfortable place in their creative process. Geer for one, seamlessly shifts between his synth and guitar making the two blend indistinguishably in one another in a way that surely evokes the envy of much of the crowd.
The Temper Trap’s songs have a melodic, meditative ambience which, when backed with enough heavy guitars, beats and synth, morph into something that is difficult not to move to. It’s something that encapsulates the melancholy of Radiohead, coupled with the undercurrent of the electronic beat pop as engineered by the likes of Massive Attack, with a little sprinkling of The Chili Peppers on top. The group work together on this stage which such cohesion that they flawlessly and consistently change up the style and tempo of each part of their set. They shift between synth heavy upbeat soundscapes layered with neatly constructed familiar guitar riffs and a touch of bass to create the perfect platform for Mandagi’s distinctive, flowing vocals. Any Indie group worth their salt would be understandably covetous of his impressive range. Those vocal chords sure are a force to be reckoned with and they are likely the driving energy behind ensuring that The Temper Trap are not just another wobbly flat pack Indie group. The band have an illustrious edge that leaves you almost reluctant to stamp them with that Indie seal of approval.
The ‘The Indie Seal’ in this case is like an ill fitting jumper, it works, but you couldn’t wear it out. They stand alone without a definition which is probably a huge part of their success. There is nothing false or manufactured about them. No part of their performance that appears to be overly contrived; they are one with their instruments, and aside from a little thrashing, the band as whole were relatively static, seemingly engrossed in the mastery of their craft. A high energy stage presence would have been unnecessary, the sound that they were creating between them was enough to produce a flawless set, during which the O2 remained full to bursting.
Of course, a Temper Trap gig would be incomplete without the appearance of their most notable track so when that familiar sweet melodic pulse inches out and morphs into that elixir of summer euphoria and all that is the Temper Trap it’s clear that the night has reached its pinnacle.
Mandagi gently climbs his vocal ladder for the slow crescendo of what is the band’s best loved hit. ‘Sweet Disposition’ is largely famed for its appearance in all manner of dramatic chick flick self revelation scenes, and although this has brought The Temper Trap chaps the public notoriety that they deserve, it has lessened the impact of a perfectly crafted song. It harks back to the days when poor old Moby found his music running alongside every chocolate cake advert going; a masterpiece like ‘Porcelain’ being gently killed off one advert break at a time. Pushing that aside though, ‘Sweet Disposition’ is unequivocally resurrected by its live performance.
As Mandagi contorts his face in an effort to squeeze out those characteristic long high notes the syrupy troughs and crests of their landmark song flood the room. Rarely do you stumble across a song that begins with such a lung poppingly high note only to go on and continue up the scale. This is likely why ‘Sweet Disposition’ has remained Temper Trap’s water mark ever since the beginning. Live, it moves into another plane becoming a soundscape that fills every little crack and crevice with a slippery musical nectar that marks the climax of a 17 song set. Temper Trap set a trap and we all willingly wandered in without any notion of the possible consequences. That is, that a 17 song set list was just not long enough.
Photo credit: Thistle Prince