Any dark energy that gathers this close to Halloween is overturned by Teleman’s support act, Alphabet Backwards. On the streets, people are beginning to look freakier; they’re ready to be riled. Inside, we’re jumping up and down as if the floor’s a pink, fluffy cloud, and no one ever thought up an entity such as the devil.
Alphabet Backwards are sweet in the way that your younger brother holding hands is, and they make you smile in the same way. They’re a five piece with impressive harmonies who tackle every number with a bubbling energy that can say nothing but We love what we’re doing right now. Because of this, everyone bops with them, and the catchy You’re The Only One I Love rings in our heads throughout the interval.
Teleman come on: tight-lipped but wearing loud t-shirts. To begin with, they’re submissive. Each man – of which there are three – sticks to his own area.
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Headspaces between them seem as shared as the over-priced pints in our hands, i.e. not at all. But, wordlessly, the beats start, and communication comes in the form of Tangerine. Thomas Sander’s vocals build amongst the synth’s fanfare and confidently-struck snare on this track. It certainly sets the bar for quirk-factor.
Though three of the four musicians have been playing together for years – Pete and the Pirates, est. 2004 – there’s something wholly new to the sound these guys are putting out. There’s no Pete, and there’s no pirates. But, even in the south west of the UK, they manage to create a sense of the tropical, a warm, indie rumbling that could persuade us to jive off a bobbing ship. Through the title-track of their latest release, Brilliant Sanity, Sander’s voice is in perfect tune with the notes being strummed to his left. Despite an endearing flamboyance, guitarist Pete Cattermoull, would come over better with a little less Carl Barat, and a little more Kele.
Given that an Oxford audience can be an imitating, if not impenetrable crowd, the band move between tracks seamlessly. Sanders sparks some verve over the Oxbridge rivalry, having just played in Cambridge the night before, which reveals some of his otherwise understated character. The propulsive Steam Train Girl, which gained them popularity back in 2014, only gets better with age. Its open question of: ‘What does it mean to be a rolling heart/ Gathering moss because you’re stuck so fast’, gets us thinking amid the indie disco.
Many of Teleman’s lyrics explore life’s liminal spaces, whilst simultaneously pointing to the bigger picture. With a highlight track from Brilliant Sanity, we’re told ‘There’s nothing like waking up with your conscience stuck in your hotel room/23 floors up’. The frivolity with which Sanders sings warrants an Oh, that old chestnut – kind of response, but there’s nothing like a set of ill-placed spotlights to make an audience feel as if they’re, too, under judgment. Blinding aside, the set compliments their music; it accentuates beats and adds a warm glow to the already giddy sound.
Not In Control marks not only the gig’s climax, but a welcome shift in tempo. Here, with the band at their most energetic, they’re reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand, and have the potential to get a crowd excited in the same way. Riding off this energy, Düsseldorf is their faux last number. It’s clear, by the liberal way in which they perform this, that something within this band has been unleashed, and there will be no attempt to stuff it back.
It’s now that the crowd is hungry. We rally for an encore and, after that doubtful/not-so-doubtful pause in the action, Teleman emerge to offer us another great couple of numbers. The anecdotal Christina reminds us how, in youth, so much of what happens can have the sensation of being accidental. Sanders sings, ‘I never meant to be the bad kid/ Feeling came in uninvited.’ \Monday Morning – off 2014’s Breakfast – is a pertinent track to end with. Lines like ‘listen to the music/ you’re in every song’ form the basis for a very public love letter.
The question of whether any of these tracks – many of which are intimate realisations – were meant for our ears is irrelevant, because we’ve been let in, and that, in its way, feels revelatory.