The sheets covering Metronomy’s instruments on stage make them look like ghostly furniture in an old house, waiting for someone to throw the windows open. It’s the case that tonight’s show at Glasgow’s O2 ABC is the group’s first in a long while – one of three standalone UK dates ahead of a busy tour of festivals around Europe and beyond. For the group – as well as for the fans there at ABC – tonight is a big deal. Support act Bossy Love open like a time capsule brimming with the kind of music that hasn’t charted since the early 2000s – it’s a joyous whistle-stop tour of British and American R&B, with a quick dalliance in new jack swing and electro. The audience seem bewildered (bar a few diehards at the front), but it makes perfect sense that the trio precede Metronomy tonight: both acts are exuberantly fixated on pop’s recent and distant past.
The sheets are lifted from Metronomy’s instruments, and the stage is bathed in red, shot through with a Lynchian shade of blue. The group themselves are sharply dressed as if they’ve just come off a luxury yacht – three are in piercing white, while bassist Olugbenga Adelekan sports a macaw-coloured gown and drummer Anna Prior shimmers in a disco ball outfit. Metronomy ooze style, but they’re no detached fashionistas. Group mastermind Joseph Mount’s dad dancing (hand claps included) and synth maestro Oscar Cash’s away-with-the-fairies jiving signify a troupe of keen beans eagerly returning to the stage. It’s so down to earth it’s even a little bit dweeby.
Metronomy are one of the great lost contemporary British singles bands – and tonight’s performance is proof. The tour itself seems to be a kind of post-peak victory lap – Mount and co’s reminder that, yes, their best tunes are still solid bangers. The Bay jauntily sets an upbeat pace for a song emphatically about not being anywhere exciting, left to spend the rubbish British summer only dreaming about sunbathing on a faraway beach full of attractive people. Keeping with the theme, standout track The Look is an oddly glossy cross between sun-soaked continentalism and an overcast English summer – a spin in a top-down convertible along the coast of Hyères to the end of Blackpool’s North Pier. Cash’s very-80s-yet-somehow-ageless pitch-bent synth solo is endlessly thrilling; so simple it’s almost cheap. Love Letters is a meta-pop masterpiece that bridges a gap between cheery 60s pop and sardonic late 70s post-punk, with a rhythm made for dancing in front of your bedroom mirror. Even later tunes from 2016’s melancholic Summer 08 have a whiff of greatness about them in this live setting, especially with the unexpected stadium guitar hits that introduce the otherwise un-triumphant Night Owl. There’s no appearance from collaborator Robyn tonight, and while her vocal presence is sorely missed on the heartsick Hang Me Out To Dry, the song is still stirring tonight with its climbing bass and mournful synth deferrals.
Unfortunately, there’s no Heartbreaker to speak of tonight, which may be understandable. It’s easy to see how difficult the transition might be from skeletal bedroom ‘indietronica’ to this current post-punk-meets-funk stage ensemble (“I didn’t future-proof it” Mount himself admits to the audience). Yet, as the group defiantly plunge into an extravagant reworking of early material, it’s momentarily disappointing that much of 2008’s breakthrough Nights Out didn’t also make the cut.
Although tonight’s performance lacks a few choice cuts, the show works remarkably well as a retrospective of near-hits; a reminder that, in another life, Metronomy could have been a pop powerhouse. But there’s something delightfully exclusive in their appeal; the songs on show tonight are so danceable and magnificently realised in full-band form, and yet the venue wasn’t even at capacity. That said, Metronomy can safely bet on much vaster numbers at their festival dates this year, with one at Secret Garden Party in July. Tonight was something special though – a triumphantly charismatic performance for a smaller crowd of followers, who are no less grateful than a packed field in Glastonbury.