22nd January | Rough Trade
Photos: Tim Ellis
“I know you know this one, but doesn’t it make you feel old?”
This is how Ninja, The Go! Team’s peppy front woman, introduced the band’s best-known track, ‘Ladyflash’. It was a song that brought the band international attention, a slot on Jools Holland, and sets at Glastonbury and Coachella.
But that was in the late ‘00s and in 2018, at the newly-opened Rough Trade Live Room, it was clear from Ninja’s expression that the song made her feel old.
She’s a performer full of theatrics and fun impressions (and was so back when Nicki Minaj was only just uploading freestyle videos to YouTube), even singing into a walkie-talkie for ‘Mayday,’ the barnstorming opener from Semicircle, their fresh release. But it seemed the part Ninja was a little reluctant to play was herself, circa-2004. Her voice was swamped in the mix and the canned horn sounds pushed the song dangerously close to karaoke. Maybe they didn’t want to perform their old classics, but they had to, trapped by their hits of over a decade ago.
But after ‘Ladyflash’, there was a shift when Ian Parton, the band’s founder, announced that he wanted to deviate from the setlist and play a new song from the album. With this new track, ‘She’s Got Guns,’ the whole band leapt out from their own shadow with the kind of infectious energy and freshness that first won over their fans. It was a shift bracing enough to put a final end to the grumblings of the couple behind me. The drums were crisp, the atmosphere was light and exciting, and Ninja’s vocals burst through the mix, recapturing their highly original combination of punchy, percussive vocals and a lo-fi instrumental mishmash.
With each track from the new album, both the band and the crowd were more present. By the time they played their second single, ‘Semicircle,’ the band’s high-school pep and cheerleader athleticism was feel-good and free of all awkwardness. Another single, ‘All The Way,’ was rhythmic and rich, with a playful vocal reminiscent of Uncanny Alliance’s earworm ‘I Got My Education.’ Even the pre-recorded horns section, which had earlier taken so much from the set, was now adding a welcome Hot 8 Brass Band touch that will be well suited to the summer festival circuit.
As they were nearing the end of the set, Ninja revealed one possible reason the performance was so sheepish – that the band were down half their instrumentalists and would be touring Europe and the UK with a full brass section. It was the promise of a better set, and not of a repeat of an evening that never fully came together. “If you’re enjoying this,” she said, as if not sure whether the crowd were, “then you’ll love that.”
But the crowd did love it. The set clocked in at half an hour – a short set in the light of ticket prices – and the band hurried off. The audience chanted for an encore until it was clear no encore was on its way, before queuing patiently to get their new records and merch, included in the ticket price, signed. That said, a few audience members were carrying a copy of Thunder, Lightning Strike, The Go! Team’s debut album. And who can blame them? It is a classic, after all.