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gig reviews - 2013


Agnes Obel
4.9.12 - St Pancras Old Church, London

Agnes Obel previewed songs for her latest album Aventine in the unusual setting of St Pancras Old Church, just behind the station in London. The Danish singer-songwriter and chanteuse appeared almost angel-like in her long white dress in the candle-lit medieval setting. Accompanying herself on the piano, Obel was joined by musicians Anne Muller on cello (Muller has played most recently with Nils Frahm) and Mika Posen from Canadian band Timber Timbre on viola & violin. The ensemble played chamber pop in a remarkable almost gothic setting.

Aventine is the follow-up to Obel's very successful debut Philharmonics released in 2010, and although the concert featured songs from both albums, naturally the focus was on the new material. The ensemble played for over an hour and there were few words by way of introduction, Obel apparently more comfortable to roll the songs out with her players. The music took on a sort of magisterial quality in the high ceilinged acoustics and austere stone hall atmosphere.

There were some great features from Aventine, like Obel's latest single 'The Curse', the complexly-structured 'Fuel To The Fire' and ghostlike 'Words Are Dead' with its lovely vapour trail at the end. It was also nice to hear songs from her debut: 'Riverside' and 'The Wallflower' were both excellent, and 'Beast' seemed to take on a whole new existence in its cyclical dynamic, even without the harp this time. The use of 'extras' like a drum machine during the set was interesting and maybe a hint of an electronic direction she could take the music in next?

The singer originally from Copenhagen who now bases herself in Berlin was right not to talk too much, the music did all the talking necessary. If the ending was a bit comic with an audience unsure whether it should be inviting an encore, by that time I think the right sort of impression had been created. Obel herself seems increasingly self-assured and the set was an original use of location to deliver her latest artistic vision. The evening passed off very well, and we'll wait for the album with baited breath.

Matthew Haddrill

David Thomas Broughton and Friends
14.7.13 - The Lexington, London

“The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” (Marcel Duchamp)

The exhibition of a urinal ('The Fountain') by Duchamp in Paris in 1917 triggered the whole Dadaist movement. Not everybody got it though, and a similar phenomenon was going on during David Thomas Broughton's special brand of performance folk at The Lexington on 14th July. Dadaist and surrealist elements, certainly, but I wonder if his audience knew what they were letting themselves in for? Broughton's shows are noted for their spontaneity and the looping of different sounds to create an unusual ensemble of sound. All the world's a sonic playground for the London-based singer-songwriter.

The evening started off relatively conventionally, with Rob St John performing a set that could only be described as cosmic loveliness, featuring among other things songs from his 2011 album Weald. His voice hovered in the air like a bird in flight, surrounded by the gentle melodic strains of his folk entourage. A song like his epic 7-minute 'Stainforth Force' is awash with delightful field sounds and gentle drones which give way to more traditional folk elements to produce one of the most beautifully-atmospheric post-folk songs you're ever likely to hear …

RM Hubbert has the strange demeanor of a roadie coming on and tuning up his guitar, before launching into flamenco guitar pieces from his debut solo album in 2011 First & Last. The singer-songwriter and guitarist formerly of El Hombre Trajeado has just picked up the coveted Scottish Album Of The Year prize 2013 for his latest Thirteen Lost & Found, was inspired by the need to re-connect with old friends while forging new ones. The album features many artists that Hubbert has worked with in the past, like Emma Pollock of The Delgados and Aidan Moffat of The Arab Strap, and is particularly notable for the song 'The False Bride', a traditional arrangement that he played with Alasdair Roberts. Pride of place belonged to this number in his short set, which featured other songs from the album as well as earlier recordings. There was plenty of the Paisley banter, too, and I did wonder if with his current recordings behind him, Hubbert might be an artist who's time really has come?

With RM Hubbert's intimate set of fairly austere folk songs, it was easy to forget the reason most of us had ambled along that night. Our cosiness was soon interrupted, however, as David Broughton Thomas began his set sampling loose sounds around him and feeding them back into his guitar amp. Broughton is irrepressible and proceeded to deconstruct and reconstruct perfectly good songs throughout his set. I would question the wisdom of that?

Two images of the evening remain indelible. The first was the artist 'stamping' some feedback with his foot, like it was a bug, growing in noise and volume … and the palpable relief when the noise stopped. The other is when he let the other assembled musicians improvise around a song as he stood on stage and looked on, adopting a series of Dali-like poses on one leg. L'art pour l'art?

Broughton's voice is magnificent and his talent highly original. The set featured what have become now perennial favourites, in 'Nature', 'Perfect Louse' and 'Ain't Got No Soul' from his last and most conventional album to date Outbreeding. As the set became more and more erratic, he seemed to be willing it to fall apart. I heard what sounded like a rape alarm going off: had he sampled that, too? He looked at the audience like he was having technical problems as I waited stoically to see if it would all come together …30 minutes, 40 minutes, 45 minutes … but I never found out, as I walked out after about 50 minutes!

Although not a huge venue, The Lexington was packed, with people standing all the way to the back of the room. Personally, I found there were too many excuses to leave. The impressions David Thomas Broughton had created were strong enough for me. Perhaps I had missed a great surreal spectacle, but with my legs turning to jelly, and my body apparently disengaged from the evening, I made my way back to Kings Cross Station, wondering if he'd sampled and looped my discontent, too.

Matthew Haddrill

Roddy Woomble
23.3.13 – The Deaf Institute, Manchester

I remember that Idlewild had the best description once. They were described as sounding like a flight of stairs, falling down a flight of stairs. I do miss Idlewild, but I like what Roddy has been doing since.

Roddy, who was always a friendly, amiable frontman, sits at the side of the stage, with his guitar player in the middle. There's an unaffected air to all of this. It certainly matters far far less than the music that comes out. Which is entirely lovely. It's all entirely lovely.

I was flippantly describing Roddy Woomble to people who didn't know as “songs about Hebridean sunsets, mostly”. If you can view that as entirely complimentary, and you should, that's not far off. Though it is very much an injustice.

Sometimes you're not looking for another epoch shift, being able to keep writing lovely songs is a skill to be cherished.
Songs about the beauty of making coffee at home.
That normal life goes on when you're dead and that normal life might be what you miss.
Time doing what you want. Notice the good times.
(Apparently there are no good times in Aldershot)

All of these things come from the stage and I was a little bit in love with the whole thing.
The new stuff is lovely.

Christopher Carney