Busted at The LCR 26/06/19
I don’t remember a time before Busted. Their music has always been there, a crash of symbols and a bassline thrumming throughout my life. I was born in 1997, a mere three years before their formation, five before their debut single ‘What I Go to School For’ was released. A five-year-old girl mostly preoccupied with ballet class was probably not the intended audience for a pop-punk boyband singing about teen troubles, but like many of my friends, that hardly stopped their music imprinting upon me. And I do mean imprinted. At five I was old enough to ferociously dance and sing along to their self-named debut album, chanting their lyrics with all the angst I could muster – although, at five I was definitely too young to understand what half of the lyrics I was chanting meant. Looking back, I’m surprised my mum didn’t find an issue with her pretty-in-pink toddler singing about Peeping-Toms, potential paedophilia, and – at a stretch – glorified climate change.
Busted is a fact of life to me. Part of my identity. One of the three musical pillars of my childhood – the others being Avril Lavigne and High School Musical. And their music has always been lying in wait to crop up when I decide to hit that fateful shuffle button. Because of this, I have been completely stuck inside my own head about writing this review. Even before the concert, I was coming up with opinions, phrases and justifications for what I thought I might say. I may credit Busted with my youth – but how would they hold up now, almost two decades since this whole affair began?
One idea I have toyed with to an uncomfortable degree is that of nostalgia. It is a powerful force. A force that has haunted Busted since they split back in 2005. Their fanbase was, or at least seemed to be, made of kids like me. Kids who have grown up playing the same three albums – ‘Busted’, ‘A Present for Everyone’, and ‘A Ticket for Everyone’ - on repeat as long as they’ve maintained any love for the band. The repetition of playing the same few songs over and over may have helped us commit their music to memory, but it also resigned the songs to the era of our childhoods. When we hear those first few bars of ‘Year3000’ or ‘Crashed the Wedding’ we are transported back, just a little bit, to the carefree days of our adolescence. We feel nostalgic. And those feelings of nostalgia are irremovable from Busted’s modern career.
Yesterday wasn’t my first time seeing Busted – or at least some facsimile of Busted – in concert. In 2014 I was one of many screaming female fans who attended the ‘supergroup’ McBusted’s tour. McFly and Busted – what could possibly be more noughties than that combo? Despite the fact that McBusted released an album, the big draw of McBusted was the Nostalgic coupling of two major boybands. The potential to experience something we thought would never happen. An idea echoed by the name of Busted’s 2016 reunion ‘Pigs Can Fly Tour’.
The danger of monopolising on nostalgia is the ultimate resignation to feeling displaced in time. Following the ‘Pigs Can Fly Tour’, Busted wrestled with their own sense of temporal displacement through the album ‘Night Driver’, which presented a marked change in genre from their early pop-punk days. In fairness, ‘Night Driver’ was released over a decade after their last album – a lot can change in ten years. With this new album, the band’s attempts to create distance between their present and teen-selves was made evident through their reworked logo. Their new music featured synthpop and alternative elements, giving it a retro-reconstructed sound. Like many mainstream bands in 2016, Busted sourced inspiration and motifs from the 80s. In essence, they sought an escape from the noughties be regressing further into the past. Although ‘Night Driver’ was a brilliantly well-rounded and thematically coherent album, it didn’t feel like Busted. Furthermore, it didn’t succeed in severing the nostalgia. During the ‘Night Driver Tour’, which I attended, there was a strange dissonance between their old and new material. As they stood in matching blue (or, perhaps, purple) blazers, I was very much confronted by the fact that this wasn’t the Busted I had grown up with. Looking back, I can recognise a strange uncomfortable quality to their performance. As the audience, we were all ready to scream and jump around to the anthems of our childhoods, but we were infinitely less prepared to sing with their new music. It was the nostalgia that had sold the tickets. Although – I must admit – the 80s inspired version of ‘Who’s David’ they played remains one of my concert-going highlights.
When ‘Half Way There’ was released earlier this year, I picked up my copy with a strange nervousness. Here, in my hands, was what I always wanted – an album where Busted returned to what I perceived as their roots. Pop-Punk. But I couldn’t help but wonder, if they had felt forced to return to the genre by their fanbase. Of the ten tracks on the album, at least half seem to be concerned with that fateful thing – the passing of time. The first few words of the album (from ‘Nineties’) are: “I remember when I was so much younger,’ setting up the nostalgic undertones of the album. ‘All My Friends’ stands out as a particularly poignant song – along with a re-release of ‘What Happened to Your Band’, initially released through McBusted – with the chorus telling us: “We’re not old/ But We’re not as young as we used to be/ Halfway to obscurity…” Although the album title ‘Half Way There’ references a lyric of their career defining look to the future - ‘Year 3000’, listening to the chorus of ‘All My Friends’, I cannot help but feel that they feel still placed in the past.
These are the fears and thoughts I took with me into the concert. Above all else, I was worried that thes boys – or, rather, these men – who have meant so much to me as I have grown up, would be unhappy.
However, those worries were quickly expelled. Out of the three times I have seen some incarnation of Busted upon the stage, this was by far the happiest and most comfortable I have ever seen them. As they broke from the darkness with two high energy songs from their classic repertoire, I felt myself relax and let go. All my fears of the possible tensions and collisions of past and present seemed truly unfounded as James, Matt, and Charlie laughed their way through links between songs. The coherence of their set – largely mingling songs from their teens and ‘Half Way There’, with only a single (if I’m not mistaken) track from ‘Night Driver’ – gave way to an appreciation for just how far these guys have come, how their talent has only increased, and how the tone of their voices has matured to give a fuller sound to the songs I love.
The reintroduction of ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’ to their set, which the band remarked upon, is telling of their newfound acceptance of their identity, and their decision to just have fun. As Matt joked about his returned affection for the song, after hating it – potentially for its commercial qualities, and its purpose within the questionable Thunderbirds(2004) live-action reboot – and refusing to play it live for years, his laughter was as contagious as his excessive profanity. “F***ing Thunderbirds, Man!”
The high energy of the set made sure that even as the voices dwindled in lieu of their newer material, we were a willing audience. Never have I jumped so much to a single set. With Charlie echoing his past self on ‘A Ticket for Everyone’ (a live-concert album), we were counted down to the well-worn lyrics of the chorus. In some cases, even that wasn’t needed. ‘Air Hostess’ began the concert, and the reception of the audience begged the question whether we even really needed Busted to sing. Who doesn’t know the entirety of ‘Air Hostess’? In classic concert fashion, the boys were quick to tell us how amazing an audience we were, and how we have been their favourite on the tour so far. And although these words are commonplace upon the LCR stage, in that atmosphere I believed them.
The power of nostalgia should never be underestimated. It may have been fourteen years since they first split, but that just gave us plenty of time to become word perfect.
The songs they included from ‘Half Way There’ – ‘Nineties’, ‘Radio’, and ‘All My Friends’ – were woven in seamlessly, proving that the band had indeed come full circle, promising that there was still some life left Busted. Also effortlessly woven into the set, were the anecdotes of the band’s history. James fondly reminisced about writing 'Sleeping With the Light On', aged sixteen in a spare bedroom and dreaming of getting just one gig so that they could meet some girls. Looking back, for all their falling apart and coming together, Busted’s journey has been an amazing one to follow. Charlie scanned the venue before telling us how his dad used to drive him all the way to the LCR to watch gigs – Stereophonics amongst them – and that sixteen-year-old him would never have believed he was performing there. This story also prompted Charlie’s dedication of Tom Petty’s ‘Free Fallin’ to his dad, who was actually in the LCR and not just driving for once. Piecing together their history in front of us, and announcing that they are only ‘half way there’, added notes of anticipation, of hope, and of excitement. Busted has come so far over the past twenty years, but they are most certainly not done yet.