The Murder Capital at the O2 Forum, Kentish Town, 23 February 2023

Second concert of the year, and one I was really looking forward to – the return of the Murder Capital. They had an amazing 2019: a brilliant debut album, When I Have Fears, which I made my No1 of the year, and a string of sold out concerts and triumphant festival appearances, which included the best performance we saw at End of the Road that year. Power, passion, swagger, emotion – the Murder Capital were the new sensation. I saw them again at SWX in Bristol in February, and, if anything, they were even better. Couldn’t wait for what they would do next.

And then the pandemic hit. And they went to ground. Making new music I hoped, but not much sign of it. They weren’t one of the bands that defied lockdown with online performances, new singles, even albums. They re-emerged in July 2022 with a single, Only Good Things. And a few more followed until the second album was finally released in January this year. It’s called Gigi’s Recovery, and reveals itself as a bit of a masterpiece after a few listens. There are no outright rockers as there were on When I Have Fears, but I had a sense that songs like Return my Head and Ethel would be powerful live. In fact, as the album revealed its layers, I felt that it would all be pretty dramatic onstage. There’s a subdued energy about it, some interesting twists and turns, a grandiosity.

And so it proved, because this was a sensational concert. The band look quite different now: more casual, more flamboyant; less of the menace that they had in 2019. But still the swagger. When I say they, I do mean all of them, but mostly I mean singer James McGovern, who struts the stage with a real charisma and connection with the audience. He looks more like a poet than a bouncer these days, but he remains a captivating presence. The set included pretty much all of the new album, interspersed with highlights from the first, and so had some quite long periods, mainly in the middle, where the songs were slow and building to a climax. That’s quite risky in a live show, when a large part of the audience might be there for the rockers, but it worked – or it did for me, and looked like it did for the crowd. And that, in the end, was down to James’s holding their attention. He is an engrossing performer.

The set began in the same way as the new album, with the atmospherics of Existence and Crying, before upping the tempo with Return my Head. Then they unleashed the crowd – and themselves – with two great favourites from When I Have Fears: More is Less and For Everything. This band knows how to rock out! From there we entered a long phase of slow burners, mostly from the new album, though there were also powerful renditions of Green & Blue and Love, Love, Love from the first. Highlights for me included The Stars will Leave Their Stage and the title track Gigi’s Recovery, both of which have so many layers, so many beautiful touches. These are the songs which I most find myself comparing to U2. There are others, like On Twisted Ground from the first album, which didn’t get an airing tonight. The comparison with U2 is intended as a genuine compliment – they are one of my favourite bands of all time. There’s a bit of late Bowie in their music too; and I think James might just be an admirer of Nick Cave. Such antecedents tell you just how good the Murder Capital are – and how good they were tonight.

And then we had the last four songs! If anyone was lulled by the slower tunes, then they were jerked to their senses by the denouement. This was when the music got brutal: Feeling Fades, Only Good Things, Don’t Cling to Life, and finally Ethel, which held its own with the rockers from the first album. An exhilarating finish, James spending half his time surfing the crowd. It sent everyone away buzzing.

I thought the band paced the set really well tonight: a taste of rock power early on, a few familiar tunes amid those slow building new songs, and then the blast of rock’n’roll at the end. All the time played with poise and confidence; James a dynamic frontman.

Two brilliant albums, fantastic live: the Murder Capital are one of the best bands around. Can’t wait to see them again at Latitude in July.

James in Johnny Rotten pose!

And Morrissey!

Cathal Roper, guitar and keys; Gabriel Paschal Blake, bass

Diarmuid Brennan, drums

Damien Tuit, lead guitar

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. I’ve written a novel called “The Decision”, a futuristic political thriller, and first of a trilogy. I’m also the author of a book on music since the 1970s called “ I Was There - A Musical Journey” and a volume of poetry about youth, “Growin’ Up - Snapshots/ Fragments”. All available on Amazon and Kindle.
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