Babe @ The Old Hairdresser's, Glasgow, 5 May
"What time's Babe on at please?" and "I can’t seem to be able to buy any [tickets] online" are the Facebook event sentiments pre-Babe at the Old Hairdresser's tonight. This frenzy was confirmed by the band selling out on the door and hot-boxing the venue upstairs with a Rui Da Silva cover (Touch Me) and Annie Lennox-worthy vocals. But more of that to come. The night starts with Lylo, whose proviso of sax with synth, slick bass and earnest vocals have us in a tailspin. Is this Top Gun nostalgia or is this punk? Should we care anymore about labels? These guys are smooth and we're all happy. Maybe a stonking sax swell is just what we needed, thank you very much, and it goes down like a pint of Buck's Fizz.
Any concern of 80s gimmick is shattered after Lylo's second song; they bring jangly guitar and film-score sax, but lead to a cacophony of sound that has an urgency that is modulated in a very distinct way. They give us weird, undulating breakdowns, with ‘wah’ trills catapulted like glitter from a scarf-laden Korg surface. The bass takes centre stage, which is sort of a revolutionary act, to both prioritise rhythm and serenely present a frontman from stage-right who was subtly effortless.
By song three we can see why they were paired with Babe – immersive dance-inducing instrumentals that build songs from chorus and reverb, floating vocals on top, and a nod to sentimental influences while deconstructing them; Lylo clearly signify with the territory being chartered by the headliners. On the penultimate song the repetition – 'I just can't wait to figure you out' – descends to a more sombre and reflective outro. They culminate in a sunny, sensual song that sings 'You know it gets me every time,' more eager and abstract. Like the dance sequence in Footloose, it expresses male desire and frustration in a way that's accessible to everyone.
Babe explicitly promise "to turn forlorn, melancholic piano ballads into smiley pop spurts." This quartet have garnered fans in Glasgow over the past few years that have grown to sell out crowds. Whether hinged on the chemistry of the band, the audience interaction, or the impeccable quality of songs that feature aerialist, falsetto vocals (or all of the above), they are more than deserving of status as the city’s sweethearts.
After an effortless intro following Lylo they provide a balearic house chorus on the third song Realistic which foreshadows the Rui Da Silva cover with its beat, adding a pulsing tempo to the night that doesn’t subside. Promoting new album Kiss & Tell, Babe feature percussion from new member John Baillie Jnr of Bossy Love. They seem to have refined their tastes to sit comfortably within r'n'b (see: nostalgic gold name chain-bearing album art) but still have a persistent melodic overtone and baroque chord progressions. Basically, they’ve levelled up.
A duet with Bossy Love's Amandah Wilkinson brings serious frisson to the room. Ayo is a slow, album-leading song that is sultry and sophisticated, indebted to the mellow production by Baillie Jnr. It’s wonderfully hazy, yet punctuated by Gerard Black’s falsetto it’s also earnest and brightly light-hearted.
Bit Part, conversely, is a haunting grime track whose low-pitched synths ‘wub’ all over the room while Black’s vocals float on top clairvoyant-like and unsettling. On the penultimate song, Babe promise to "get silly" and release some of the expected exuberance and joy from their gigs – they do not disappoint. Their Touch Me cover completely alights the room into energetic dancing.
Wrapping up with Scooping Pints, a floaty, indie-style track reminiscent of Yeasayer, proves that Babe are still not easily pinned down. They are wonderfully adept in style, nebulous in influence, and tentative to the emotions of a contemporary audience. Every instrument is played impeccably; from the Blood Orange-style guitar and bass, to the wonderfully r'n'b drums, to the electronica vocals. Babe escort you through all possible shades of an experience – be it remorseful, sensual, or plain silly – and encapsulate the felt landscape of bands who find genre a limiting categorization and instead choose to exist in their own depths.