Live Review: Smoke Fairies with Marian McLaughlin at DC9, Washington DC – 5th September 2014

By on Monday, 8th September 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Appearances can be deceiving when it comes to English girl duo Smoke Fairies. Though they might be sporting flowing tresses and wearing simple white dresses on this night that seemed to indicate innocence, their music isn’t entirely dream pop as inaccurately described on Wikipedia. Or at least I think the label does them no favours, actually dismissing their craft. Their affinity for American style blues, which Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies picked up on when they spent a year studying in New Orleans, is what I find most interesting about their music. The last time I saw the pair perform, they were supporting a then unknown in the States Laura Marling, so I was eager to see and hear how their sound had evolved from that time 4 years ago.

Opening for Smoke Fairies was Marian McLaughlin, a local singer/songwriter who performed this night by herself. She released an album on her own this past January, called ‘Dérive’. McLaughlin began her set with ‘Heavier-than-air’, which she described as relating to the early days of human flight. I appreciate her willingness to tackle heavier subject matter than what is usual for this kind of music. The at times slightly more frenetic ‘Horse’ showed off her vocal talents, as well as her guitar-picking skill.

After the show, she had mentioned to us that when she can, she performs with a string quartet, but unfortunately the quartet was already booked out for that night when she’d arranged the gig. One has to wonder how much bigger of an impression McLaughlin would have made with them backing her. If you’re interested in hearing more, check out her Tiny Desk concert (with said string section) on the NPR Web site.

Watching singer/songwriters live is usually a dubious exercise for me. My usual problem with the genre is that the lyrical content is too banal, simple or devoid of emotion to capture my attention. Thankfully, in the case of Smoke Fairies, they have something in their arsenal that you would never guess if all you knew of was what they looked like. Live, the conclusion of ‘Misty Versions’ is swirling about in a psychedelic way, yet it’s organised chaos as the rhythm section comes together with the dreamy vocals (okay, yes, I’ll give you that) to create a juxtaposition of elements that shouldn’t work on paper but somehow do. In contrast, slow-burning number ‘Eclipse Them All’ comes across as sultry and almost a little dangerous. Later on the set, faster tempoed ‘Hotel Room’ proved the evening’s standout, recalling foot-stomping blues numbers of the past.

Blamire and Davies released their self-titled album, their fourth, this past spring on Full Time Hobby, so naturally their set was heavy on content from the newer material on ‘Smoke Fairies’. Davies has a sometimes pointed, sometimes hard vocal delivery; I wondered if this had to do with the microphones and sound system at DC9 or maybe it’s the approach she takes when she performs live? I wonder about this because it’s not as obvious on the album. A resounding call from the crowd for the band to return for an encore was rewarded with the ladies coming back to play ‘Blood Speaks’, the title track of their 2012 LP. While it could be said that the attendance at this DC show wasn’t great – this is a town whose denizens tend to work long and late hours, and this show began at the very early time on a Friday of 7 PM – the fact that those punters who were present were appreciative fans and were loud in their admiration is a good sign that Smoke Fairies must be doing something right indeed.

After the cut: Smoke Fairies’ set list.

Smoke Fairies’ Set List:
Shadow Inversions
Eclipse Them All
Strange Moon Rising
Waiting for Something to Begin
Summer Fades
Version of the Future
We’ve Seen Birds
Want It Forever
Hope is Religion
Misty Versions
Your Own Silent Movie
Hotel Room
Are You Crazy?
//
Blood Speaks

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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