An exceptional weekend of live music:

St Vincent / Cate Le Bon

The Fleece, Bristol.11/11/11

Reviewed for Listomania Bath

Tonight’s sold out show buzzes with the air of great expectation that surrounds a classic Bristol tour date. Rain has soaked the streets and the queues are building outside the bleak exterior of this famous venue. Inside the talk is of music, we may just be about to witness something special.

Being the solitary support for a hugely talented artist such as St. Vincent is an extra pressure, as is playing solo, as is stripping back your acoustic guitar parts so that your vocals are right out there to be openly examined; Cate Le Bon handles these pressures well and certainly delivers on the vocal front, confidence is her ally. Her welsh lilt rolls along like an Atlantic wave heading for shore, with an intimate intensity under big skies. Every wave is unique – for she is a songwriter and not a by-the-books vocal soul sucker. Le Bon is casual in appearance as she subtly charms her way into your heart with a slickly executed set, this is a well rehearsed classic warm-up act but perhaps not one for those that yawn at folk, the techno geeks or those a little too desperate for the night’s main draw.

Beer flows and the latecomers fill the fleece to capacity, and when Annie Clark walks on to front her band the reception for her alone is a rapturous one. With her selection of tasty electric guitars she fronts a drums and two keyboard setup that seems to have the ability to replicate or enhance any instrument, tone or feeling from the eclectic St. Vincent catalogue. They open with Surgeon from latest album Strange Mercyand it is staggering from the off just how strong Clark’s vocals have become from her time on the road, her guitar playing is of course phenomenal, she may indeed be the most exciting contemporary guitar playing talent in the world today. She is note perfect and in every way heartbreakingly beautiful, the band dynamic is perfect, this is perfection, or as close as it gets to it. Clark is petite but not short, and her delicate slender arms work overtime to effortlessly glide her long fingers all over the necks of her guitars in highly individual patterns of raw beauty, poetry in motion. Clark is the complete artist who in three albums already has a canon of classic material from which to draw, it is quite literally enough to make you weep. Neutered Fruit highlights where her journey as a guitarist has taken her, Strange Mercy (the track) is the most beautifully layered quiet epic and Actor Out of Work from Actor lets you in to what these incredibly crafted gems really mean to their composer; there is such a release in the concluding section of the song that you really begin to feel as if her whole personality is woven into the fabric of her work. It is intense, intelligent and so utterly compelling that you’d almost be forgiven for forgetting the session-tight three-piece who back her, the drums are just brilliant, the drummer himself with all the right credentials having played this same venue with the late Jeff Buckley. One keyboardist blends backing vocals in to the mix so slickly that they sound like Clark is suddenly double tracked. Lyrically too, Clark demonstrates what a serious and intelligent songwriter she is, there is reportage, role-play, masked personal experience, mystery, intrigue, anger, and love. Outside of the serious zone Clark engages with her crowd, for they are hers and she appreciates it, she is sweet, informative and funny with stories behind the songs and boundless enthusiasm. She plays her latest cover version, The Pop Group’s She Is Beyond Good and Evil… it rocks! ‘Year of the Tiger’ has the jauntiness of a late Neil Young track, with the world-weary lyrics of a person who can plumb the depths and come up shining like a diamond. Encore track The Party is just vocals and solo keys that wrap it up in a chrysalis of warmth and textured bliss. Her vocals are crystalline and melt the mind and heart alike. Then we get the climax that is Your Lips Are Red, the solitary offering from debut album Marry Me, the die-hard fans have been waiting for it, and it’s quirky rock riffing is breathtaking to behold. Sell your spouses, biscuits, and DVD players for tickets to her shows.

This review ends now with a short epilogue to let those reading this who know me personally that after Annie Clark leaps into the crowd and that magic threshold is crossed, when we then hold her aloft before then lifting our heroine to her feet again it is one of the single best moments of my life so far.

Read on Listomania

Siskiyou / Silver Pyre / I Know I Have No Collar @ The Cube, Bristol 12.11.11

Reviewed for Bearded Magazine

The Cube Cinema/Theatre is a wonderfully intimate venue; it is small but houses one of the biggest indoor stages in town. Tonight, it is littered with a staggering array of instruments belonging to all three bands and decorated with giant fabric tulips; it looks a picture. The seating is sadly far from full as the first band take to it (all braces and Bristol whimsy) but the audience keeps coming in dribs and drabs, every one eager for a comfy chair and a soulful homely atmosphere. The nights draw in – music is our salvation.

I Know I Have No Collar, who on record sound a bit quaint and shambolic at times, are a live act to be reckoned with, they shift around the stage swapping instruments which include stand-up drums, clarinet, trombone, bass, six-string electric and keys – there’s even a twin melodica led track. They are quirky for sure but also talented and Aaron Sewards’ lyrics are playful and often thought provoking. His dry wit comes across well between songs and he strikes up a real bond with his audience. This band of Bristol artists and arty types do feel more like a collective than a band, and though this lends them a certain charm perhaps they do lack a certain cohesion needed to raise them to the next level.

Silver Pyre are a much more professional outfit in terms of their sound and their stage presence, but the music has that element of workmanship, rather than a folk-y things falling into place vibe, they fuse electronic beats and triggered effects and synth lines from David Edwards on one side of the stage into driving and exceptionally tight kit beats from the other played by circuit pro Dave Collingwood. In the middle is main-man Gary Fawle (composer and rural archaic culture obsessive) with his minimal but neat guitar work and honey-gruff vocals that offer brief glimpses to his obsessions, sadly these are slightly too low in the mix to cope with the dazzling rhythm play that acts as the lead instrument, taking the place of the guitars in a more traditional set-up, if you like. It’s clever, slick and borders the line between indie and dance music.

The common way of introducing Siskiyou is to talk of it almost like a side project for two (one ex) of The Great Lake Swimmers, but this does a massive disservice to their other two members, who are a massive part of what is one heck of a live performance. Heart wrenching and upbeat sits alongside bittersweet simple melody and musicianship of the highest order, but this is a songs band primarily, and just two albums in they have a set full of classic material and a future glistening golden, an open road, with great songs rising like mountains on either side. Drummer Shaunn Watt plays soft, kicks up the leaves when needed, and slips moments of Jim White-like jazz-folk chaos into the mix before falling back in time with the precision of a Shakespearean sonnet (I’ve never owned a Swiss watch) all with a wild, almost pained, totally focused expression on his face. Watt also sits at his kit with a guitar, painting a backdrop, and offers ghostly backing vocals that are some of the sweetest ever heard. The band rip through songs from both their records, they play their fabulously alternative version of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘El Condor Pasa’, heavy with soft doom keys that twinkle on the way out. They turn it on with ‘Never Ever Ever Ever Again’, fan favourite from their eponymous debut (a classic), bassist Peter Carruthers playing with such focus, and throughout, he plays the roll of the rock, listening with joy and responding accordingly. Erik Arnesen plays with intricacy and passion on banjo and keys (once, both together) he has a true folk style, simple lines that send the mind on a journey from the wilds of Canada to other kinds of wild under Californian skies. ‘Twigs and Stones’ from Keep Away the Dead (perhaps another classic), has that folk-y foot stomp vibe that also allows them to brave the hallowed ground of Neil Young’s ‘Revolution Blues’; they cross it unscathed. The set seems to reach a peak, bringing all these elements together in the song ‘Big Sur’, where our front-man Colin Huebert leads us in with a beautiful picked acoustic part which becomes intertwined with banjo, before Huebert’s throaty but luxurious and oh-so-Canadian vocal sings of California, taking us from the seashore, through an internal monologue, to the party and the refrain of ‘Let’s party… all night long’ which is spattered with drum bursts, and melodica from Carruthers. The crowd bristle, some want interaction, some are there to be moved; everyone goes home happy.

Read on Bearded Magazine