My schmuck high school drama teacher used to tell kids he cut from the musical (not me) that there are two kinds of people: “actors who sing, and singers who act. And then there are you guys.” But then there’s Paul Smith, Maximo Park vocalist and the you-guyest of the British new wave resuscitators. At the Bowery he worked those textbook theater faces and projected to the back row without losing his Newcastle accent—a schmuck drama teacher’s dream. But beneath the face cake, Smith’s a smartass, stocking his poses and ticktocking his Kit-Cat eyes until Schmuck would’ve burned red and the audience would’ve realized Smith is not an actor—he just plays one onstage.
Smith’s “strong presence” bordered on spotlight hogging, and when he jumped up and kicked the air at the close of the spy theme “Limassol,” it was flat-out photosynthesis. But without his derelict lip licks and stuck-in-a-box karate chopping, who knows how anyone could have gotten through more than five of this haircut band’s wire-crossed jams before suiciding on barbicide. Not that I don’t absolutely adore “Postcard of a Painting,” their love-lost neon shuffle, or the moody mariner’s rhyme “Coast Is Always Changing,” or the starts and stomps of “Graffiti”—it’s that together they’re too intense, and despite their short lengths, too stand-alone. “Life can be a bit dull—this song is not,” Smith taunts early on; somehow, his singles go steady.
They closed with U.K. smash “Apply Some Pressure”—now about Katrina, said Smith. He scolded the U.S.’s woe-is-me, when last year most Americans couldn’t have given a shit about the tsunami that devastated South and Southeast Asia. Did I mention Maximo Park are British? However accurate, Smith’s barb pricked the crowd sour, especially when the chorus kicked in: “What happens when you lose everything? You just start again.” This was the fourth wall we didn’t want to see Smith break, let alone stone us with the rubble. But we clapped anyway—partly because “Pressure” is Maximo best number, partly because Smith, tired after an hour of full throttle, looked exactly like the actor who plays the 40-year-old virgin in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.