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Drever, McCusker, Woomble – London Union Chapel 13/2/09

Kris Drever, John McCusker & Roddy Woomble – London Union Chapel 13/2/09

 

An admirable focus on the whole prevails this evening. It would have been easy just to have played this Scottish trio’s recent Beyond The Ruin LP in full and have everyone go home happy, but they insist, worthily, on challenging their audience as much as they can. It would have been easier still to play on the fact that among their ranks is one of the best-loved indie figures of the last decade, Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble. Since the journey from thrashy to classy with his day-job band has been completed, it’s time for Woomble to try something different, and this project couldn’t be in better hands.

Kris Drever‘s devilish guitar and John McCusker‘s multi-instrumentalism provide scintillating bases for Woomble’s roughshod, weather-beaten poetry to fire off of, a constant and evolving battle of soothing and menace. Into The Blue is buoyant, considered and, at its climax, full of glorious vocal harmony that fills the dome of the church with ease. Similarly, My Secret Is My Silence from Woomble’s debut solo LP is full of repressed energy and joyous vocal flourishes. This is continually polarised, though, by instrumentals from Drever and McCusker, who tackle jigs and reels with impeccable virtuosity and real verve. Despite demonstrating that no single member of this trio (and their myriad accompanists) is more important than another, it’s the ensemble pieces that remain strongest. The gorgeous Hope To See defines the evening, sensitively told stories with the most satisfying of plucked and bowed backing – in short, a consummate treat and celebration of balanced musicality.

More info here. Pick up  a copy of The Fly this March and see this review accompanied by a lovely picture! Or view it in the online magazine.

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Martha & The Vandellas – London Bloomsbury Ballroom 20/12/08

Martha & The Vandellas

There’s always a danger with elder acts that any attempts to embrace modernity will come off as a desperate grasp for relevance, and any attempts to simply stick, steadfast, to what they know best will be interpreted as aligning oneself with dying breeds. Think of Tom Jones collaborating with Wyclef Jean. Think of Cliff Richard continuing to shamelessly canvassing for Christianity. But ah, Motown! That’s different! Surely nothing can derail the charm, the sass, the repressed sexual undertones?

Indeed, as far as showstoppers go, the undiluted stiffness of Martha & The Vandellas is a top draw, and Reeves and her sisters happily carry every single trait present at their inception. Rightly, no effort has been made to update, to forcibly include contemporary elements into their act. Elegant yet aggressive, the three of them perform the requisite hand gestures and flourishes with an air of authentic tribute, the handkerchiefs on their wrists worn like war-wives’ continuing hope of a man’s return. When the inevitable Jimmy Mack is introduced, Martha shambles (quite hilariously) into giving the impression she’s waited 40 years for the titular beau. Far from trivialising the sentiments of the song, the impassioned delivery by the group polarises the initial humour, making all the more potent as a dramatic piece.

As with disco, the best performers of Motown music effectively create a true drama out of what might be seen as excessive camp, unnecessary emotion or vulnerability. All the Vandellas songs have such a brazen, simple heart that when the three of them harmonise (with remarkable accuracy) with eyebrows arched in exertion the projected drama is palpable throughout the Ballroom. The Vandellas’ ability to sustain this dramatic interest was the initial key to their success, and they appear, with age, to have maximised its potential to remain an engaging live presence.

While there’s the occasional mis-step into that Tom Jones territory with slightly funkier new material, in the main tonight is a tremendously classy, well-judged affair. The turn-out is surprisingly small (there were a lot of names on the guest-list and very little advertising), but it all makes for a privileged feel among the guests. An introduction to another inevitable song, Dancing In The Street, sees Martha assert herself as a proud original, lambasting the likes of David Bowie and Mick Jagger (Youtube their version and cry dying) and even Cilla Black for inferior interpretations before launching into the most spirited performance of the evening. Whether it’s confusing, retro authenticity or just a good night out, what lasts longest in the memory is the verve, the expression and intimation of vulnerable but strong women, still dramatising after all these years.

See this review also HERE!

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James Yorkston/Malcolm Middleton – London St Giles In The Fields Church 11/12/08

Malcolm Middleton

Gigs in churches are just ace. No one talks, no one wanders around and gets in the way, everyone’s seated, not drunk and the artists are more likely to play at their best ‘cos of all the upturned faces at their feet. Malcolm Middleton seems very nervous about the whole affair, though, even though it’s a support slot. It’s not a nervousness in performance, particularly, more a nervousness that God will strike him down for saying “shite”, “pish”, and “we’re all gonna die” like a quiet shaman. Nothing like that happens, thankfully, and we’re treated to some spirited woe and a beautiful version of Devil & The Angel, leaving the audience several times warmer in this nippy old crypt than when he arrived.

James Yorkston

James Yorkston shares with Middleton a similar wariness about language and content, but unlike Middleton a real, performance nervousness that sees him bash the mic stand and forget his words in the first song. “Does anyone know how to play Steady As She Goes?” he later asks, bashfully. Ah well. From then on, though, it’s admirable festive stuff, with several highlights from the recent When The Haar Rolls In LP getting a welcome leg-stretch. Particularly endearing is the sweet and luxurious B’s Jig (in which the accordion and clarinet blend timbres like the separate elements of a Fruit Corner), and recent single Tortoise Regrets Hare, which features japesy contributions from Pictish Trail and Rozi Plain.

Throughout, though, it’s clear to see that Yorkston’s ease as a performer is what we’re all enthralled by, and the way he interacts with his hermetically tight band as well as the audience is a lesson in sympathetic control. As he gently crescendos all the way to the climax of the obligatory Shipwreckers, it’s hard not to be swept away by the conflict of grandiose religiosity trading blows with the defiantly homespun in this most glorious of surroundings.

More info and some ruddy music can be found here and here. And, get this, you can see the same review HERE! Why would you want to do that? TO PROVE THAT SOMETIMES PEOPLE DO READ WHAT WE WRITE!

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Dark Captain Light Captain – London 100 Club 12/11/08

Dark Captain Light Captain – London 100 Club 12/11/08

Dark Captain Light Captain 

Touring their extremely good and many-layered debut LP Miracle Kicker, Dark Captain Light Captain appear to have grown not only in number (from two to six) but also in dynamic range. Their sound was once almost tiny – not in anyway wimpish – and certainly not as explosive as they now appear to be. The nucleus still appears to be original duo Dan Carney and Neil Kleiner, however, pulsing and juddering respectively as they have at the sweltering and very crimson 100 Club.

 Dark Captain Light Captain

The majority of Miracle Kicker is aired this evening, with the particularly jaunty Jealous Enemies standing out (and garnering a bizarre wailing sing-along). Because of the intricacy of the band’s material, some clarity is lost in the mix and Kleiner’s electronic noodlings seem a little under-represented (and what happened to the clarinet?!), but this is ably compensated by the new verve and direction that the band’s live show has gained. They all sweat and shudder an awful lot, resulting in such athletic kineticism as to render all memory of the recordings, for the time being, void.

 Dark Captain Light Captain

Heroically, quite a substantial amount of the intricacy and consideration that makes those recordings special is traceable even amongst this relative chaos. Dan Carney’s guitar lines are woven quite delicately amongst the occasional fury of the rest of his band, but never resulting in the muddying of a gesture. Robot Command Centre and B-side Mid-Session Interval see DCLC at the closest to their original two-pieced incarnation, with tastefully organised and executed extras added along the way. It is because of this duality, this sometime subsidence of detail for energy and vice-versa, that the band succeeds in the live setting. One step too far into either camp might derail the whole operation, and it is to their credit that this never once happens.

Visit the band at their MySpace, here.

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