You know that whack-a-mole game at the boardwalk where you slug the bouncing puppets as hard as you can to send them back into the mechanical habitat they came from? If the whack-a-moles sang—harmoniously and relentlessly—they would be the Futureheads, who played the Bowery Ballroom February 22 to a sold-out crowd. The foursome belted out bruising post-punk doo-wop ditties till they were out of breath and their throats were raw in raspy delight. Singer-guitarist Barry Hyde lost most of his voice by the second stop of their first U.S. headlining tour. But wait, don’t panic, there were three others on hand to sustain the strain.
Hyde introduced their cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” by announcing (in Sunderland, U.K., gibberish) that “this is a song about murder, but we don’t want to bring anyone down,” which proved impossible. They couldn’t even bring themselves down. They raced through their set in frenetic time, pushing out a strident stream of guitar that recalled XTC, Gang of Four, and the Clash. From the minute they marched onstage (to the tune of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which played in its entirety) to their final notes of “Man Ray” (their encore), the Futureheads backed four-part harmony with anxious drums. The well-orchestrated vocal excess is inevitably tiring—not much more than a novelty. If the Futureheads had played one, just one, slow song for some variety, their vocal dalliance would have had a payoff. But they resisted performing the sweetly a cappella “Danger of the Water” from their debut album, which only hints at the band’s potential range. Is it possible to hit the same note while singing many different ones at the same time?
The High Speed Scene opened in spare contrast with Cali optimism and a song about hotties that explained, “Nothing comes easy to the children of heat/We bake in the backyard, we take to the street.” It’s a simple sentiment with lazy implications of hot asphalt days, something the Futureheads may never slow down enough to wallow in.