It’s clear from the first bars of opener ‘Swapping Spit’, from this summer’s sophomore record June Gloom, that Big Deal have grown up since the fragile two-piece shows they played when founding member Alice Costelloe had barely finished her A-levels. Tonight, the original lineup of guitarists Costelloe and Kacey Underwood are bolstered by bassist Huw Webb and drummer Mel Rigby, formerly of London post-punks S.C.U.M. The addition of a tight, characterful rhythm section lends a sturdier backbone to the dreamy haze of the older songs given an outing tonight. Rigby, especially, is excellent, her drumming precise but powerful, and her propulsive rhythms at times drive the songs as much as Costelloe and Underwood’s stormy, grungy guitars.
‘This is a slow one,’ Underwood claims, before the band, grinning, launch into the not-slow-at-all ‘Teradactol’, all galloping drums and desperate, urgent pleas (‘no-one else will know / come on, let’s go’). The difference between this iteration of Big Deal and what preceded it is stark – if Lights Out was a thesis in longing for an intangible, idealized other, all tension and miscommunication, bowed heads and caught breaths, then June Gloom is the sound of finally getting what you want and not being able to keep your hands off each other. It’s steered by an irresistible undertow of desire, still, but this time it’s more hot ‘n’ heavy than the coy, simmering references to bedrooms of two years ago, fleshed out with grit and guts and defiantly pounding hearts. The lyrics (it’s worth noting that Big Deal deviate from most other boy/girl two-pieces by generally singing the same lines at the same time, rather than anything as structured or mannered as a duet) blur the lines between friendship and romance but are unfailing in their intimacy and warmth – the difference is that this time round it’s bolder, frequently fulfilled rather than yearning, brave and certain enough to demand ‘if you want to, tell me now’.
The show is meant to finish on the sultry/sulky angst of ‘Talk’, until a persistent member of the crowd’s request prompts a brief onstage discussion about whether or not they remember how to play ‘Chair’. They decide to give it a go. ‘Remember what I said about risk,’ Underwood warns us, and the girl who requested it yells cheerfully ‘don’t worry, we’ve got glass bottles!’ ‘That’s … actually pretty motivating,’ a wide-eyed Underwood deadpans, before quoting Back to the Future (‘this is an oldie … well, it’s an oldie where I come from’) to appreciative cheers, and tumbling into a ramshackle, glowing rendition of a song they haven’t played for two years. It’s inevitably technically imperfect but also really endearing, the song still authentically sticky and fraught with teenage hormones and morning-after awkwardness, and it gets people in the crowd dancing while the band catch each other’s eyes and try not to laugh. It’s a rather lovely note to end on, and a display of a new directness and honesty from a band whose initial hype was largely derived from their shying away from the limelight.