“Is that your car alarm?” curly-topped bassist Chris Cain enquires of fellow We Are Scientists member and frontman Keith Murray after the latter’s instrument lets loose several unintended wails of piercing feedback. “Apparently, right now in New York, my car is being stolen,” quips the singer to hearty chuckles. “The rest of this show is going to be rather bittersweet for me.”
Under the low-hanging roof of Wakefield’s Warehouse23, the Brooklyn-based indie duo are on typically droll form, blending fey asides with their blend of twitchy alternative rock – a modern-day cabaret presided over with an awkwardly endearing charisma.
Having traded seventies garage hooks for slicked-up 80s power-pop on latest effort Helter Seltzer, Murray and Cain barely raise above mid-tempo for half of the night, content to stroll unhurried throughout. Some songs soar on their lovelorn platitudes – the Ric Ocasek-tinted sheen of We Need a Word’s power balladry is a criminally epic standout. Others however, such as the burbling Buckle, come across as ersatz filler, particularly when preceded by the skittering post-punk party of breakthrough single Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt.
Unsurprisingly, it is the pair’s major label debut record With Love and Squalor that they mostly lean on, mixed in with various jokes and asides – essentially half stand-up set, half musical interlude. Decade-old songs such as the jagged Inaction and angular riffs of Cash Cow still sound franticly overblown whilst It’s A Hit fizzes with the same scrappy energy it possessed 12 years ago on release.
Murray presides over songs in fine, if serviceable voice – and when he and Cain exchange rapid fire quips, the crowd lap it up. “Tell you where all the s*** gets stolen,” the guitarist cracks, pausing for a beat. “Huddersfield.” Such local pot-shots are pure pantomime performance – but it earns gales of laughter from a partisan crowd.
These routines occasionally lead to disjointed moments – one punchline about Yorkshire takes far too long – but the sharp, spiralling funk of I Don’t Bite and Impatience’s percolating guitar lines swiftly grabs the attention when an atmospheric lull looms ahead. “Thank you so much Wakefield,” Murray proclaims late on, before the metronomic, sweeping After Hours. “It’s been our pleasure.” From the grin peeking out under Cain’s finely trimmed moustache, his bandmate is clearly in agreement.
Unrepentantly nostalgic and atypically whimsical, We Are Scientists have their act down to an art – a winning combination still leaving fans sniggering five albums on.