Sundara Karma + Freak + The Night Cafe, Birmingham Institute, 20/9/16

Sundara Karma. Photography by Laura Benwell

It was probably around 2007 when Alex Turner officially became the teenage indie fan’s frontman of choice, once the provisional acne and apprehensions had cleared up. Van McCann has been a relatively recent introduction into this pervy pantheon, but now, on a dull September evening, there’s a freshly anointed heartthrob – Oscar Lulu, your crown awaits you.

The swelled Birmingham crowd is bulging with mostly teenage girls, replete with glitter and guilty gravitas, who all possess the energetic abandon of people who’ve been granted a night off from doing the post-Corrie washing up. Opening act The Night Café are a stellar choice of support, their flashy but inoffensive melodies danceable, but heartfelt, enough to keep the swaying crowd sated. Their USP, though, is their penchant for peerless harmonies, bringing to mind their fellow Scouse alumni The La’s.

Positioning themselves as the missing link between The Subways and FIDLAR, Freak are, well, on fleek – they’ve seen the crowd are ready to explode like a volatile Vimto, they understand the aesthetics of rock and roll abandon and, to their credit, they exude it masterfully – kick stands are mounted, photographers are mugged and crowds are surfed. The trio’s blend of bludgeoning grunge and skater sloppiness provides welcome brio, not least in the caustic crunch of ‘What Happened?’

Sundara Karma. Photography by Laura Benwell
Sundara Karma. Photography by Laura Benwell

Feet stomp, hands yearn and ovaries obliterate as Sundara Karma stride onstage, and it’s not long before their chorus-inflected charisma infects the hysteric hundreds. Their set, like the singles they’ve released, is polished and buffed to a blinding sheen, but in truth, when they can knock out choruses as infectious as ‘A Young Understanding’ – which provokes the audience into frenzied pogoing – there is little hate to be found.

Lulu, of course, has the crowd in the palm of his hand; he incites a sea of loving sighs with one mere tug of his flowing blond mane, and inspires rampant cheers as he puts the world to rights on the Two Door-esque ‘Flame’ and the pounding, Phoenix-style electro rock of ‘Loveblood’. Even when things get a little too 1975, on their quirky Luther Vandross cover of ‘Never Too Much’, it still sails on the right side of sultry.

Their latest single ‘She Said’ is their best so far, a dizzying jolt of night-time decadence as Lulu comments: “I doubt he even knows that it doesn’t feel right.” It certainly doesn’t, and there’s a hell of a lot of guilt and grime afterwards, but with hooks this strong, it’s hard not to be pulled in.


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