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Zodiac, Oxford, 28 April 2008

The cold and rain has cleared Oxford and the evening is warming up nicely for indie underground faves Mystery Jets landing, mid-way through a European tour, to promote new album 'Twenty One' and single 'Young Love' at the city's legendary Zodiac venue. Muirs (53 and 18 years and ageing) hot-foot it to check out the fuss...

Nice fellow, William Rees. The Puckish guitarist/vocalist with Eel Pie Island's Mystery Jets is enjoying a yummy pre-gig dish of noodles over the road from the Zodiac on Oxford's scruffy Cowley Road. We have been seated next to band and he remains a gentleman when we quiz as to why the recent Norwich date particularly went down well with fans.

"It's just a welcoming city for us," starts William, mid-handshake. "There's a good feeling in the culture of the place, a kind of lack of pressure and laid-back way that makes for a good audience." How's the tour going in general? "Yeah, very nicely, we've played some great dates but it's tough you know, we're on every night, so that's some travelling."

They look Cowley Road rather Norwich, we feel. Fellow band members Blaine Harrison (lead vocals, keyboards, percussion, effects), bassist Kai Fish and drummer Kapil Trivedi do look tired; they munch noodles and listen politely to a lecturing roadie. The place is filling with gig goers but nobody else has noticed that they are here - how odd.

Time flying, noodles consumed, we head off in search of pens – an essential quite overlooked by the more senile.

Cowley Road is swarming. A couple of desperadoes hold us up for five minutes at the box office (“Could you just check for my name again … please ...?”) Saved by the guest list, we dive in, fast confronted by swarms of skinny jeans, sculptured fringes. It's an art school outing, befitting a band that references Syd Barrett, musician of enormous originality, talented painter, lost soul.

Good grief - Peter last saw Roy Harper at the Zodiac. Except it's not called that anymore and he looks a bit disappointed.

"Used to be a great dump, lots of ratty people, no undergrads." All that's changed now that the Academy Group took it over and branded it another Carling. Still, its reassuringly tacky inside where the floor is fast filling with an eclectic mix, with yes, plenty of floppy-haired students, slurping back the beers, jumping about to support act Golden Silvers and ... hey, they are really rather good ...

The subtle combination of soft lights, whimsical lyrics and a thumping bass line make Golden Silvers instantly appealing but it's the throwback to the retro sounds of 80s synth which truly sets them apart. After many an attempt to semaphore Emily's opinion on influences, the old is finally impressed with the referencing to the standout keyboard working the sound of 60s' acid-jazz psych legends, Soft Machine. Get in!

The set is well received, and free CD's are distributed, largely to the adoring gaggle of fans shouting at the front right. Peter sets off in a desperate bid to snatch one, but sadly to no avail.

A lengthy and sweaty wait ensues as the roadie checks the gear and the sounds, until finally, to the wail of all-clear sirens, The Mystery Jets land, grab positions, and get stuck into tough, punchy workouts of EPs old and album new.

'Hideaway' gives way to crowd-pleaser single 'Young Love' (even the old knows this and so do the middle-age American couple behind him). The grads are flung up front, teetering at the stage, too polite probably for full-on occupation. The a/c doesn't handle the hot feet in the Zodiac and the sweat is pouring down Harrison's face.

Perched on his little stool, he sings with his head up in a voice louder than he is large, a rag doll Judy Garland, while Rees gurns away, hopping about the stage. Even more athletic is Kai, playing taut, jazzy runs, he attempts to scale the speaker stacks, while sticksman Trivedi - who you can't see but God can you hear - splashes dollops of meaty percussion about the space.

Making up for the lost time, the band work fast through the set with increasingly tight playing, some great harmonising, hair-on-end moments, on and up to the curfew with towering renditions of "2 Doors Down" and closing with "Bunhouse" - spectacular, the undergrads almost faint away into the dry ice in excitement.

Mystery Jets are a must-go-see. They score for harnessing so much energy to material that collectively triumphs over fatigue, PA problems, idiots in the audience, whatever. Eccentric, individual, potent - go see...before they hit the big time and you won't be allowed to touch the hems of their fraying strides.

Review by Emily and Peter Muir


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