“We need some light,” Ruth Quigley, the lank-haired keyboard player in Glasgow’s Dogs Die in Hot Cars, said onstage last Tuesday night at Irving Plaza. She and her bandmates—each a different version of gawky—were gearing up to rock the room full of chattering trendoids assembled to dig Phoenix, the evening’s infinitely hipper headliners. Quigley soon got it, and so did we, since, despite their name, light is pretty much exactly what DDIHC bring to the resurgent Britpop scene the band is spearheading alongside similarly positioned acts the Futureheads and Franz Ferdinand.
The ‘Heads play their short, choppy guitar-pop tunes with comparable zest, and Franz only get as dark as the back of a cab, but neither of those bands approaches the full-on exuberance of the Dogs’ sound: Every cut on Please Describe Yourself, their terrific debut from last year, vibrates with a fluorescent horn chart or a caffeinated organ part or the sort of wordless vocal refrains often heard during minor-league seventh-inning stretches.
Just as they once did on records by Madness and Dexy’s Midnight Runners, producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley ensure on Yourself that these elements cohere in order to serve frontman Craig Macintosh’s songs, which ruminate over Catherine Zeta-Jones’s perfectly toned body and the uselessness of speaking Swahili if you never plan to go there. At Irving that tidiness was less of a concern: Stuck on a stool behind a big Roland RD-700, Quigley made up for her inability to dance by hammering at the keys like she was dribbling a basketball; Macintosh tilted his head back and formed a basketball-sized hole with his mouth during the too-rye-ay bits; all five of them rushed the verses to get to the sugar-high choruses a few seconds faster. Maybe they feared that earnest energy dies in long songs.
Later, Phoenix—an open-eared pop-rock outfit from Paris—happily played the first half of their “Too Young” in total blackness, illuminated only by the screams of tank-topped, high-heeled drunk women rightly enamored of the band’s scruffy, sport-coated élan. Earnest energy? They were too cool.