When Big Deal’s Alice Costelloe and Kacey Underwood emerged with the intimate, lovelorn album ‘Lights Out’, the music press predictably zoomed in on their seemingly ambiguous relationship. The two expressed horror at this very public speculation in interviews, and followed their stripped-back debut with the musical equivalent of a cold shower, adding band members for two albums of big, vaguely 90s-indebted indie anthems.
The new music is tuneful and serviceable, but perhaps the band protests too much. Tonight’s show proves that Big Deal’s most interesting songs are indeed the ones that play off the opposing – but not necessarily sexual – energy of its two magnetic leads. There are times during the set when Underwood’s starry-eyed Californian sparkle meshes well with Costelloe’s dark London wryness, recreating the push-pull moments that made their debut come alive.
However, it soon becomes clear that all is not well with Big Deal. The palpable in-band irritation spills off the stage for most of the set; his exuberance seems to grate on her, while her sarcasm is taken as grumpiness. In a recent interview, Costelloe likened the band’s triptych of albums to the beginning, middle and end of a love affair. This show really does have the hallmarks of a bad break-up, and not in tenderly crafted ‘Blood On The Tracks’ kind of way, but in a ‘sitting paralysed with awkwardness at lunch with your friends who are about to split up’ kind of way. Although seemingly unintentional (unless this show is a piece of meta performance theatre), it’s actually a far truer portrayal of the horrors of an imploding relationship. Dylan could learn a thing or two here.
The tension comes to a head when Costelloe tells the packed-out crowd that they’re about to play “a song that [their new Brighton-based record label] FatCat hates.” Underwood’s Cali optimism reaches its breaking point: “Don’t talk anymore,” he tells her, before the band launches into an abridged version of the appropriately-named ‘V.I.T.R.I.O.L’.
Like many of the band’s new songs ‘V.I.T.R.I.O.L’ is catchy and energetic, adopting the trappings of shoegaze but reaching for platitudinous vagueness. It could have done well by channelling the real, simmering animosity which is all too evident up on the stage. The drummer stares steely-eyed into the middle distance throughout the set, as if imagining herself somewhere far, far away – or at least over at the bar. We know how she feels.
As much as Big Deal may feel uncomfortable with this potent but volatile central chemistry, their attempt to bury it beneath big choruses doesn’t seem to be working. It’s hard to imagine where the band are headed after this breakup album, aside from the ‘bumping into each other awkwardly in Starbucks’ album, or else complete radio silence. “What you wanted, and what you chose / You can’t have both,” they sing on ‘Dream Machine’. As they are now, Big Deal sound like a band being crushed between their own and other’s expectations.
The Hope & Ruin, Saturday 18th June 2016
Words by Eve Watling