Shot! Busted at the Brighton Centre

13 years after their bust up, the recently reunited pop punk trio return with a shimmering new sound

Back in the day, Busted were big, really big. Indeed, in the early noughties the Southend trio had no less than four No 1’s and released two studio albums. But by 2005, things imploded when Busted had a bust up and Charlie Simpson quit the band. Simpson’s new career fronting hardcore rockers Fightstar never saw him reach the same heights, whilst the other two found success in other fields: James Bourne as a songwriter and creator of musicals and Matt Willis as an actor and celebrity (even winning I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here)

A couple of years ago, Bourne and Willis got together with McFly to form McBusted. Simpson was asked to join, but refused. Despite his absence, McBusted revived the careers of both bands and even produced their first new music for over a decade. In 2014, I saw them play a headline show at Brighton Centre and was impressed by the energy they had as well as the show they put on. To me, McBusted were better together than they were as two separate bands. I fully expected them to carry on.

What no one anticipated was Busted reforming and Simpson returning to the band. But perhaps the biggest surprise of all was that their comeback record would be quite so different from the faux-Green Day pop songs of their early days. In fact, thirteen years on, their new music was unrecognisable, shimmering synths had replaced guitars and the sound was more Daft Punk that pop punk. Indeed, it was so completely different, you’d have thought it was another band.

No doubt the Busted name was just too valuable to discard. All I knew was it was going to be interesting seeing them in 2017, fifteen years after they first topped the charts. How would they compare with McBusted? How would they integrate their earlier hits with their new sound? What kind of show would they put on?

Up until reaching the box office I wasn’t sure whether I’d be finding out as I’d only managed to secure a photo pass. I rarely shoot gigs where I can’t stay to review them, but with my last concert being nine weeks earlier (Jack Garratt back in November), I was eager to get back in the pit.

My first surprise was finding a review ticket alongside the photo pass. My second was finding out I could only shoot the first two songs. Almost always, it’s “first three, no flash” and whilst the time depends on the length of the songs, usually three is never enough. Just two and the pressure to get what you want is amplified.

Talking of which, things didn’t bode well for the gig as the support band struggled with some of the muddiest sound I’ve heard at the Brighton Centre for some time. Despite that, I have to say Natives managed to impress me. With their tribal percussion driven songs, the New Forest four-piece showed potential and did well to win over the partisan crowd.

Three shiny keyboard stations signalled that it was time for Busted and gave a clue as to the electropop direction version 2 of the band would be taking. Behind them, at the back of the stage, was a drum set and places for two other musicians. What was noticeably absent was any screens. These days, playing in front of a huge LED screen is standard procedure for most big bands. Busted chose to just go with lights, primarily a series of ‘skyscrapers’ - moving LED bars, designed by Tim Routledge. Visually it wasn’t bad, but compared to a lot of what I’ve been seeing recently, it didn’t produce anything particularly memorable.

Fortunately, their engineer managed to give them some decent sound, especially the drummer, whose powerful playing was the most impressive of anyone onstage.

Personally, I much prefer their new songs to their back catalogue, but as suspected, played alongside each other all too often the two styles jarred. Musically, it was like watching two different bands.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the dominance of Charlie Simpson over the other two. In McBusted, my recollection was that all members appeared pretty equal, but here it was Charlie’s raspy vocals that, like him, was centre stage. There’s no doubt it’s his voice that dominates the new album, it’s by far the most distinctive of the three. By comparison, during this show at least, Matt’s vocals were surprisingly weak and James was strangely anonymous.

They were more involved vocally when it came to the Busted hits, which not surprisingly were the songs that got the biggest reaction on the night. Of those, Year 3000 was probably the standout. Personally, I would have preferred it if they hadn’t mixed the old and the new together. Perhaps it would have worked better if they’d split the show into two halves.

Putting on a performance with such a split personality was always going to split opinions and be hard to pull off. Their show may have lacked the production value and energy that made the McBusted union so good to watch, but you have to admire them for their new musical direction.

Of the new songs, and they played no less than nine out of the dozen on Night Driver, the best were Thinking Of You, Without It and the Daft Punk homage On What You’re On.

With Busted already planning their next album, it’ll be interesting to see how they develop. Next time around, those jarring hits of yesteryear could soon be just a distant memory.

Setlist: Kids With Computers | Thinking Of You | On What You’re On | Air Hostess | Night Driver | Nerdy | Without It | I Will Break Your Heart | Who’s David? | Sleeping With The Lights On | Crashed The Wedding | 3AM | New York | Year 3000 || What I Go To School For | Coming Home | Those Days Are Gone

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“To me, shooting live music is all about capturing the personality of the performer and the emotion of their performance. And then creating an iconic image.”

Behind the image: All these images were shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and either the 12–40 2.8 Pro or the 75 1.8 lens using available light only, and the camera’s built-in digital zoom. It was a challenging gig to photograph as I was only able to shoot the first two songs from the pit. During that short time, the trio were positioned behind elaborate keyboard stations and spent much of it looking down at their instruments. Shot in Brighton on 14 February 2017.

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