In May of last year, after an eleven-year breakup, pop outfit Busted played Wembley Arena in London showcasing a selection of their greatest hits alongside a shimmer of what was to come from their third release, ‘Night Driver’. Released in November, the new record demonstrated Busted still what have it takes to shine in an over-saturated pop market, even a decade later in 2016. Last night saw the band play more intimately in group member James Bourne’s home-town of Southend-on-Sea (also notably the meeting place of the group and the area where many of their early hits, such as ‘Year 3000’, were penned). Scheduled as one of several smaller UK gigs on their ‘Night Driver’ tour, the show marked the trio at their finest, and in hindsight was a succinct love-letter to the band’s birthplace and a homecoming the likes of which the Cliffs Pavilion had never seen.
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Kicking off festivities with new track ‘Kids with Computers’, it is abundantly clear that Busted knew exactly what they were doing when they critically decided to cash in on synthesisers, electric keyboards and saxophones for the new album. Swapping out classic pop-punk riffs for murky grooves and arcade-like synths, the track, aptly named, is a dramatic opener for the band as they establish their nu-wave sound. As Charlie Simpson commands the track’s vocals and dances around the stage (with no guitar in hand), one can see the freedom on his face and the enjoyment derived from delving into unexplored territory. Arguably, what made the band split in the first place was getting bogged down in the cliché boy-band image that the group naturally attracted, but now that stigma has been broken and dismissed. These boys are men now.
Tearing through ‘Thinking of You’ – a track that feels particularly fitting given the location – the band then play ‘On What You’re On’, their most daring and eclectic track to date. Dubbed as a pseudo-Daft Punk effort, the song is arguably now the band’s signature club song, and as expected gets the crowd moving and grooving. After its completion, Simpson comments on the fact James ‘lives only ten minutes up the road’, to which Bourne replies ‘I walked along the sea wall earlier!’, which is met with adoration and an aura of pride from the Southend fans. As well as drawing heavily from the new record, Busted oldies were expected and the first is the energetic and cheeky ‘Air Hostess’, demonstrating immediately that the band can easily and smoothly swing between their new electronic style and their old noughties rock sound. Hyperactive, chaotic and as guiltily sang as it ever was, the song launches the venue into a rapturous fit of wild commotion; honestly, it’s like Busted never left.
Returning to the title track of the new record, ‘Night Driver’ feels like the band’s most mature and pertinent song yet as it glides through its own dark and melancholic fibres– undoubtedly a night time tune as the name suggests. Flipping the mood on its head again, the band played ‘Nerdy’, the closing track from their second album ‘A Present for Everyone’. A bitter-sweet plea for the girl next door and the closest thing to the group’s own ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, the song surprisingly feels overly emotional, most likely as it was the last track we were left with studio wise before the band’s untimely breakup all those years ago. Regardless, the gem hits home where it intends to and does not feel dated whatsoever.
As the trio smash out the angst-y ‘Without It’, acoustic driven anti-ballad ‘I Will Break Your Heart’ and a ‘spruced up’ 2017 version of ‘Who’s David’, it’s crystal clear the band are having a stellar night and revelling in the fact the passage of time hasn’t disturbed the reign Busted held over the music scene in the early 00’s. As the lighters and phones go up in the air, the opening chords of tear-jerker ‘Sleeping with the Light On’ play and it’s official: Busted are back and welcomed with open arms from a generation of fans who never really left. As the song chimes to an emotional finale and the voices die out, Matt Willis addresses the fact he lived with Bourne up the road in Rochford for two years whilst they demoed tracks for the band’s debut album. Following that, they met Charlie in Southend and he was instantly a valuable addition to the band and their masterplan for a record deal. Willis then thanks Bourne’s parents who are somewhere in the audience and one cannot help feeling that tonight will mean more than another night on the tour to James and his family.
Curving off the end of their set with the carnage that is ‘Crashed the Wedding’, an especially heavy version of ‘3:AM’ that would give Fightstar a run for their money, and the band’s time travel anthem ‘Year 3000’, the band thank the audience for tonight and further show their gratitude for a town close to their hearts. After ear-piercing screams, foot-stamping and the nervous (but obvious) anticipation of an encore, the band return to the stage with Simpson commenting ‘you guys knew we’d come back, we were just tricking you’. Taking us all the way back to the band’s first single in 2002, the band share a sped-up and punkier version of ‘What I Go to School for’ which resonates explosively with the crowd. Followed by the introductory track off the new album, the fittingly named ‘Coming Home’ is played penultimately and what a way to complete their homecoming. Finally, the band end on the winter-y, yet hopeful number ‘Those Days are Gone’, which begins somewhat like Simpson’s solo material before eagerly jetting into an emotional, dance-y and synth-drenched spectacle. As Bourne, Simpson and Willis leave the stage for the final time, it feels like only the beginning of a new chapter for the band and what a milestone for them to achieve. Welcome home, Busted, you have been sorely missed.