The Open @ The ICA, London, 29th March 2004
THE OPEN - ICA, LONDON, 29/03/04

Here on a quiet Monday evening at the ICA, there’s a bit of a secret bash going on. No posters, no touts – just one of Britain’s hottest new bands showcasing its tunes to a small crowd of arty types.

‘Build Me Up/To Bring Me Down,’ cries singer Steven Bayley during ‘Bring Me Down’, the set opener. The Open have certainly been built up, it seems virtually every magazine has tipped them for great things this year. ‘Stone Roses ambition’, ‘The size of St. Pauls’, ‘The best new band in Britain’ – they’ve had lavish praise heaped on them in abundance. Quite premature one feels, considering they’re yet to even release their debut album and are still plugging away on their first ever headline tour.

The opening tracks, ‘Bring Me Down’ and recent single ‘Close My Eyes’ are fantastic – they sound so huge they virtually swallow the tiny theatre here at the ICA, not to mention their epic, crowd winning choruses. Somewhere between U2 and Echo and the Bunneymen, The Open have found their niche in creating a barrage of sound with more apocalyptic guitar effects than vocals, and it works wonders on occasions. When they get it right they hint at something quite special, and it’s not hard to see why pundits in some quarters are proclaiming the return of the Messiah.

A solid foundation’s been laid, but rather unfortunately the band fail to recreate the initial sparks of their first two songs. There’s a distinct lack of words and melody on some of their songs, on ‘Can You Hear?’ it’s as if they’re trying to stretch sound barriers – the result is not overly friendly on the ear, nor the ICA sound system. ‘Forgotten’ goes some way to recapturing the initial brilliance – it displays a punkier side to them, with its heavy riff and aggressive vocals, but in tonight’s context serves more as a pleasant reprieve from the guitar meltdown.

The Open are no doubt hugely talented, but at the moment it seems they’re far too aware of this. Steven Bayley remains poker faced throughout, and not a word is uttered to the crowd. There’s no encore, either – the band walk off after a mere seven songs, leaving a slightly sour taste on the pallet. The hype is not totally undue, but they’ve got a fair amount of work to do to justify it. Two truly great songs and a bit of sonic experimentation was what we got on the night, one can only hope that there’s more on offer on the album.

Jeremy Lloyd