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Review: Maxïmo Park at the Rock and Roll Hotel

Written By | Aug 8, 2014

WASHINGTON, August 8, 2014 – Maxïmo Park feels like a distinctly English band. Listening to them blast through their songs recently at the Rock and Roll Hotel was an intriguing experience. They have a flair about the way they play that inherently sets them apart from their contemporary American counterparts.

Their distinctiveness from bands inhabiting this side of the pond separation isn’t necessarily a good/bad thing. It’s just something distinctly different, something that isn’t often seen in the States, although it’s readily recognizable.

It would be easy to say that a great deal of the band’s look and feel is affected by Paul Smith’s vocals. But that’s a bit misleading.

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Smith’s accent is obvious and noticeable for starters. But this ignores how many bands here and there try to affect exactly same sort of clearly Brit accent. It’s been fashionable since at least the Beatles’ coming of age. No, the Smith-led atmospherics actually dwell almost entirely underneath the surface of Maxïmo Park’s sound and the way they play.

The last most recognizable British musical movement – at least the one that has the most name value in the US – was Brit-pop. Aside from a few bands, though – most notably Oasis and one single issued by Blur – this was a genre that didn’t gain much of a foothold in the US.

But still the Brit-pop name stuck with a lot of people who were into pop music. It eventually became pervasive within the lexicon of pop/rock music entirely because it was a distinctly British thing that may or may not have had an effect on American bands.

The clearest thing about Brit-pop was that, as a genre/movement, it died rather quickly over here. But it was much more impactful on bands in English, which is obvious but still present in bands like Maxïmo Park.

Maxïmo Park probably wouldn’t trace their musical lineage that tightly to Brit-pop. Truthfully, looking at pop music history objectively, they don’t really have much directly in common with that genre.

But one of the general principles behind Brit-pop is that those bands that became identified with it during its brief place in the sun Stateside were trying hard to return music in England back to where it once was: a distinctly British sound and attitude, rather than a mere interpretation of popular American genres. And that’s an old, original rule Maxïmo Park has taken with them.

A lot of Maxïmo Park feels like an updated version of post-punk. They incorporate the same kind of guitar driven introspection and depth into their music to the point where it’s easy to take them seriously.

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But on the other hand, they’re hardly a serious band. Maxïmo Park is actually a playful band at heart, possessing a bouncy, irreverent nature that doesn’t flag a bit throughout their entire set, which was exemplified by their recent performance here. It’s that kind of lighthearted outlook that sets them apart.

Maxïmo Park did not come across as a fast band by any stretch. But they are certainly a clever band and one that isn’t likely to be staying in one place for any length of time. They’re naturally an upbeat band, endeavoring to keep the pace brisk all night with surging, up tempo guitar work and a nicely changing style of keyboarding that subtly shifts as they move from song to song.

But at the same time during their set they managed to keep a coherency throughout their set here that easily bridged the space between their songs, all of them coming from their various recordings.

It’s those subtle style shifts coupled with the band’s upbeat nature that separates Maxïmo Park from other indie rock contemporaries, keeping them in tune with those now-vague Brit-pop sensibilities. Maxïmo Park’s set here exemplified a quality distinct enough to feel like a welcome change of pace from normal indie rock fare.

Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer. He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years. Currently he lives in Vienna, VA. He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.