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In a student-heavy front room in a student-heavy part of town, only the sixth Newcastle Sofar Sounds kicks off. As regular TGTF readers will know, the idea of Sofar is to bring live music literally into people’s front rooms. In some parts of the world, the events are wildly oversubscribed, making a pass-in one of the hottest tickets in town. Newcastle has yet to reach such giddy heights of success, but it’s not for the want of quality acts. Acoustic troubadour and medical student Matt Hunsley hosts, his housemates and fellow students make up most of the crowd, and TGTF was there to record proceedings.
Suntrapp, aka Jake Houlsby, is that rarest of things: a professional musician. That is to say, he earns his living through playing music. Most acts one might read about in these pages are amateurs: they work other jobs in order to finance their music making. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that; the amateur artist has the freedom to work within any discipline and any style, regardless of its commercial appeal. Professionals, however, prostrate themselves before the altar of money, making or playing whatever their customer demands. Thankfully, tonight Houlsby the pro is appearing as his alter-ego Suntrapp, so we are spared the ‘Your Song’ cover. What we are treated to is a close-quarters set of his songs so far: the pretty ‘New Morning’ is a delicately-picked ditty showcasing Houlsby’s plaintive vocal style; more memorable still is the set-closing instrumental piece: a flamenco-inspired loop overlaid with some lovely mariachi flourishes, which apparently sounds great in a church.
What becomes apparent as Suntrapp’s set progresses is how reverent the audience are tonight. One could literally hear a pin drop. Given the recent complaints about the rudeness and ignorance of modern audiences – speaking loudly during quiet bits and being obsessed with selfieing themselves in front of the band – the atmosphere tonight comes as a refreshing and deeply welcome change. If anything, this is the biggest attraction of Sofar: because this is an invited audience, everyone is here to listen to the music rather than have their own little narcissistic party.
Brooke Bentham is even more sparse of guitar, but wonderful of voice. She ranges between dusky low pitch and delicate falsetto. ‘We’ll Be Ghosts’ is stunning in its minimal presentation; she really lets her spectacular voice rip towards the end of the song and it’s a thing of beauty. There’s a song about Oscar Wilde, which hints at literary pretension, and gives a depth to the songwriting that does justice to the presentation. Apparently she’s moving to London soon to study at Goldsmiths, where she will no doubt go onto huge things indeed.
And who is this headlining? Surely not Bridie Jackson and the Arbour, the Glastonbury-competition-winning folk four-piece? Yes it is, and they sound utterly wonderful. There’s Bridie with her guitar, there’s a cello, a fiddle (not violin, as I am corrected later), and a percussionist sat on a cajon and wielding some lovely obscure noise-making artefacts. ‘Crying Beast’ – apparently written about a tiny monster who enters a house via the letterbox and feeds upon the negative energy within until it takes up a whole room – treads a delicate path between light and dark; ethereal beauty and hints of discord live uneasily together, resolved by the final coda of “I’m shrinking as you grow”.
Tonight’s presentation suits such material perfectly – the pristine, note-perfect three-part harmonies are a wonder to behold at such close quarters; the bowed instruments are plucked in unconventional ways to variously mimic lead parts or give the impact of a bass guitar. In their mastery of traditional arrangements, twisted into thoroughly modernist songwriting, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour share much with fellow northeasteners The Unthanks, which is high praise indeed. They’ve got a new album out in ‘New Skin’, and are just about to embark on a tour of suitably unconventional venues across the country, notably the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, attendance at which comes highly recommended.
Out of everything that went right tonight, only the venue leaves a little to be desired. Yes, it’s in a secluded corner of a leafy part of town, but a quick tidy up and brush of the feather duster wouldn’t go amiss, particularly in the bathroom. And how much does a bag of tea lights cost these days? A few throws and a bit of atmospheric candle-lighting would make things feel that bit more special from a visual point of view. To be fair, this is a student house, so on that scale it’s a palace; still, a variety of venue might make the Sofar offer even more compelling.
But that’s picking nits, frankly. Sofar offers an unmatched opportunity to see acts “in the raw” as it were, stripped of anything as vulgar as amplification. Vocals and instrumentation are as naked as their maker intended, which means they carry a tonal, and therefore emotional, impact rarely found at a live performance. Tonight is quite the most intimate and respectful night of music one could ever have the good fortune to encounter. Bring on next month.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 10th September 2014 at 2:00 pm
After having seen sold out shows at U Street Music Hall starring the Gaslight Anthem, Kodaline and more recently, Glass Animals 2 months previous to the day, it seems that from here on in I should just expect ridiculous scenes at the place. This past Monday night, the initially dance-orientated but now fully indie-friendly venue played host to a Cherrytree / Interscope Records label tour starring some of the brightest stars in their universe. Interestingly, the three bands chosen for this tour – opener Secret Someones and co-headliners Sir Sly and Wolf Gang – all make pretty different music, but pop is the thread that unites them all.
Like seemingly 90% of all the bands in the United States, Secret Someones hail from Brooklyn. Seeing three girls onstage in a band, I was expecting a Bangles-esque sound to come blaring through the speakers. However, it soon became apparent that whether drummer / multi-instrumentalist Zach Jones’ maleness makes a difference or not is moot. This is a young band with a lot of potential, if they only could decide on the direction they want to take. Given the way the music business is right now, maybe it’d be better if this group continued the way they are going and then be a quadruple threat in indie rock, straight rock, pop and folk? That’s a lot of keep track of. So what happens to them remains to be seen.
Bess Rogers, Hannah Winkler, and Lelia Broussard are clearly gifted in singing (they take turns taking lead vocals) and in particular their combined harmonies, which are wonderful. If you’d never seen them before, you might think incorrectly that they were actually sisters. That’s how tight their harmonies are, making me think of the pure pop sensibility of Wilson Philips. But such sweet harmonies make more sense in softer pop or folk contexts, don’t they? Those styles seem diametrically opposed to the kick-arse rendition of Nirvana’s ‘Breed’ they unleashed on us, which also makes an appearance on their debut EP ‘I Won’t Follow’. Jones felt it necessary to explain after that they’d just played a Nirvana cover, which should tell you a lot about the average age of punters at the show. The title track of the EP, which Secret Someones used to close out their set, sends the right kind of message not only for young women but for everyone of all ages and genders: be confident in your own strength.
I’ve seen London indie pop band Wolf Gang multiple times now at U Hall, it’s now a running joke with me and the guys, and even frontman Max McElligott himself mentioned it onstage on this night, saying it was practically like their second home. Not a bad thing at all. Now fully a four-piece band comprised of McElligott, guitarist Gavin Slater, bassist James Woods and drummer Lasse Petersen, instead of just McElligott’s vision of grandeur with backing touring members, is readying for the release of the second Wolf Gang album, ‘Alveron’, here in the States.
Early single ‘Lay Your Love Down’ revealed a couple weeks ago has been a clear indication that McElligott intends to continue Wolf Gang with the epic pop songwriting that continues the reign of ‘Lions in Cages’ and ‘The King and All of His Men’ to this day. While McElligott proffered an acoustic version of ‘Ghost in My Life’ in the second half of the set to “change things up a bit”, it was left to the core love and relationships’ type of songs this band is known for to keep things upbeat. The exuberance of spring 2014 single ‘Black River’ grabbed hold of your attention straight out of the gate, while the sweeping yet funky ‘Back to Back’ wowed and proved a definite standout of the night. The sexy, r&b-tinged ‘Now I Can Feel It’ off the new album shows the band isn’t afraid to spread their wings.
The most tender moment of the night was when McElligott dedicated ‘Midnight Dancers’ to a couple they’d met earlier at the meet and greet, who had explained tearfully this was the song they used for their first dance when they married recently. He said they felt so special and honoured to have been a part of their lives. And when a personable band like Wolf Gang does come into your life, you can’t help but feel grateful that as a massive fan of the band, you’re being taken along on the ride while that band works hard for their successes. You feel like family. Having followed their story since 2009, I anticipate with the release of ‘Alveron’, their time will finally have come.
Stay and Defend
If You Could Believe (new song)
Lay Your Love Down
Back to Back
The King and All of His Men
Ghost in My Life (acoustic)
Now I Can Feel It (new song)
Lions in Cages
Alveron (new song)
Like Wolf Gang, Sir Sly have toured America several times as support for bands I’m not particularly fond of, and I was certain it would not be long before they returned to DC as a headliner. While they are a three-piece on paper, live they are a five-man crew creating a massive wall of sound so magnificent and loud, I had to excuse myself from the pit about 25 minutes in because the beats were so relentless. Watching them further back didn’t diminish their impression at the slightest. When I saw the vertical light strips hung on the back wall of the stage, I knew we were about to be sonically and visually assaulted.
I’ve been watching this band, comprised of frontman / guitarist / keyboardist Landon Jacobs with multi-instrumentalists Jason Suwito and Hayden Coplen pretty closely over the last couple of months, primarily because I’ve been beguiled by the intoxicating combination of electronic, r&b, hip hop and pop they’re offering up. Considering the disparate populations of fans we have in the world who like one of two of these genres and might hate the others, Sir Sly does an incredible job putting it all together in a way that’s palatable to all. I thought it was a quite ballsy move to begin with ‘Where I’m Going’, one of their biggest songs to date; it was the gig equivalent of putting your cards out on the table right from the very start. It could have set a terrible tone for the night if it’d gone badly.
Instead, the massive underlying buzzy synths, combined with Jacobs’ oozy yet boy next door vocals, electrified the audience. The buzz from the synths continued with ‘Ghost’, with a super infectious backbeat and Jacobs’ little boy lost vocal delivery. With a rapped intro and heavy-hitting percussion, previous EP title track in minor key ‘Gold’ was a crowd favourite, punters’ hands in the air. But for me, the defining moment was when they brought out ‘You Haunt Me’, their most recent single and coincidentally the title track of their debut album out next week. The song has a bouncy ‘80s style rhythm throughout and features a glittery synth chorus that could have gone into cavity-inducing territory in the wrong hands. But no. Sir Sly brings it back far enough where it sounds fresh and new AND catchy. No mean feat. If I were to pick the next American band to be huge in 2015, no contest. Give Sir Sly the crown now.
By Mary Chang
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.
Continue reading Live Review: Smoke Fairies with Marian McLaughlin at DC9, Washington DC – 5th September 2014
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 4th September 2014 at 4:00 pm
Jessie Ware will be releasing her new album ‘Tough Love’ on the 6th of October on Island Records. One of the tracks appearing on the new LP will be this collaboration with Dev ‘Blood Orange‘ Hynes, a little disco-infused number called ‘Want Your Feeling’. Here for you today we’ve a live performance of Ware and her band performing the song at London’s Barbican, where it’s clear this song (and probably other tunes on ‘Tough Love’) is a great vehicle for her sultry voice. Watch it below.
Mancunian five-piece Elbow have just announced short residencies in both London and Manchester for the early part of 2015. Explaining the idea behind the shows, frontman Guy Garvey says “We enjoyed our theatre tour of the States and Canada this summer so much that we decided to do some at home. There is something magic about the history of old theatres and doing residencies in these lovely buildings means we can be playful with the staging.” (If you missed it back in May, you can read about one of those North American shows in this previous live review from DC.)
In contrast to Elbow’s usual festival and stadium shows in the UK, these more intimate shows will allow the band to highlight rarely played songs from their back catalogue alongside familiar fan favourites. Tickets for the following sure-to-sell-out appearances go on sale Friday the 5th of September at 9 AM.
Thursday 5th February 2015 – Manchester Apollo
Friday 6th February 2015 – Manchester Apollo
Saturday 7th February 2015 – Manchester Apollo
Tuesday 10th February 2015 – London Hammersmith Apollo
Wednesday 11th February 2015 – London Hammersmith Apollo
Thursday 12th February 2015 – London Hammersmith Apollo
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 27th August 2014 at 4:00 pm
Kent space / prog rock band Broken Hands performed last weekend at Reading/Leeds Festivals 2014, and even if you weren’t there to see them, BBC Introducing has you covered. The five-piece performed the rockin’ track ‘Hanging Off a Meteor’ and have committed it to tape.
We’ve heard Broken Hands are now hiding out working on writing new songs. Is a debut album on the horizon? We certainly hope so. In the meantime, watch the live performance below.
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