MANHATTAN, NY—Guitarist Duncan Lloyd, keyboardist Lukas Wooller, bassist Archis Tiku and drummer Tom English formed Maxïmo Park as an avant garde rock band in 2000 in Newcastle, England. The band took its name from Máximo Gómez Park in Miami, Florida, where many Cubans play dominos. At first a largely instrumental group, the four founding members played small shows, including Manchester’s In The City, which showcases unsigned bands in the UK. In 2003, the original singers, Lloyd and Tiku, sought to add a frontman so they could concentrate on writing the songs. English’s then-girlfriend heard his friend Paul Smith singing to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” at a karaoke night and recommended him. Smith previously had played guitar with his twin sisters in the instrumental band Me And The Twins, but this karaoke night was only the second time he had ever sung in public. The band members gave him demos of their songs and Smith joined Maxïmo Park. Together, they moved away from instrumental and avant garde music and collaborated on writing smart, sharply catchy songs inspired by 1980s British new wave bands like The Jam, XTC, Wire and The Smiths. Maxïmo Park have released five studio albums; the most recent, Too Much Information, was released in February 2014. The first two albums went gold in the United Kingdom.
While popular in Great Britain, Maxïmo Park are relatively unknown elsewhere. That made it surprising that the band would headline the 500-capacity Gramercy Theater on May 23. Ah, but during intermission everyone around me was speaking with British accents. British expatriates who relocated to New York comprised at least some of the light audience in the theater. Smith came on stage wearing a tweed-like suit and pork-pie hat (he later took off the jacket but never the hat). The band roared into “Give, Get, Take” from their current album. While the album introduced a more electronic sound to the group’s music, the live performance retained the band’s earlier guitar-based sound. From here on, it was a trip back to about 1980.
Maxïmo Park are a pop band and the sound all evening was retro new wave. The beat usually was too busy for dancing, but provided plenty of bop for pogoing. The band was energetic, but no member more than Smith, who paced, squirmed, and shook along with his microphone throughout the show. All was going well until the speakers failed 11 songs into the set, during “Leave This Island.” The momentum cooled, Maxïmo Park took a brief pause while the sound system was restored, and then plowed back into bouncy pop music for another 11 songs. Song titles like “Brain Cells,” “Hips & Lips,” “Books From Boxes,” “Drinking Martinis” and “Girls Who Play Guitars” explored a wide range of clever lyrics. Some songs were more serious than others, including “Her Name Was Audre,” which was about the late Audre Lord, a Caribbean-American writer, radical feminist and civil rights activist. Maxïmo Park may have a serious side, but tonight’s concert was all about hip wiggles and shakes.