The past decade of British indie rock largely discarded any remaining traces of ’90s Britpop for a smoother, often inoffensive modern rock sound. Long were the days of the Gallagher brothers’ us-against-the-world snarl, Blur’s idiosyncratic wit and Pulp’s romantic realism. Many recent English indie groups have elected for a clean-cut, well-mannered aesthetic, so it’s no wonder post-punk and noise bands like Shame, Idles and Black Midi have taken off.
Enter West London sextet Sports Team, arguably the most exciting Britpop-indebted band in years. With singles like “Beverly Rose,” “Margate” and an EP titled Keep Walking! earlier this month, Sports Team make uncharacteristically funny and charismatic indie rock. They’re charming and pesky, but not in an overly laddish way. You won’t find morbid social commentary or self put-down lyrics—Sports Team bring back jolly camaraderie and light-hearted spontaneity. On “Kutcher,” Rice sings with a glam-punk twinge, “I just wanted to be your mid-Noughties MTV star” over a thick bed of warped guitars, and it’s hard not to imagine this band all over the channel, had they emerged at that time. Sports Team have built a steady following in the U.K., and they played their first American show Monday night at SXSW.
Frontman Alex Rice and co. headlined the British Embassy at Austin’s Latitude 30, playing for about 45 minutes to a packed crowd. The dress coat-suited Rice jerks his lanky arms around like Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger or perhaps a glam rock or proto-punk-esque chicken. Songs like “Kutcher” and recent single “M5” sound even friskier in live form. Rice vigorously mimes words and dances in a disheveled manner during the instrumental passages, giving off an anxious, arty and distinctly British rock energy. If the wide-eyed Rice is tired during their 1 a.m. set, no one could tell. Towards the end of the set, he found himself on top of the bar, hovering over the audience, but by that time, the crowd had already been well won over.
If they keep up their naughty punk spirit and whip-smart indie rock chops, their first album should contain what recent English indie debuts have lacked—spunk, humor and most importantly, fun.