Monday, November 02, 2009


After plenty of travelling in the last few days including yesterday's trip to Cambridge, it was good to be going to a more local gig. However both tonight's bands had put in the miles to get here: My Sad Captains from London, Bowerbirds coming from slightly further away, North Carolina.

This was my third time seeing My Sad Captains (End of the Road in 2007, then earlier this year at the Windmill) but first in their slimmed down version. Now a four piece (Ed Wallis guitar/vocals, Jack Swayne bass, Nick Goss guitar/melodica, Jim Wallis drums) they are still able to replicate the beautiful and subtle orchestrations of their records but this did involve all four members, including at times Jim the drummer, also doubling up on some form of keyboard/electronic device.

If singer Ed Wallis can appear hesitant or even apologetic introducing songs, there's nothing hesitant about the music. It's timeless and superior indie-pop with a hint of Americana (and possibly - tonight's debate - The Go Betweens?). Troubled or troubling relationships, miscommunication and break-up are some of the themes of their songs but whether the atmospheric 'You Talk All Night', the poignant 'A Change of Scenery' or the pop-rush of 'All Hat No Plans' the songs are joyous to hear. Great to hear the set-closer 'Bad Decisions' - the single on Fortuna Pop where I first came across the band.

'There's another video of 'You Talk All Night' from tonight also on You Tube.

The band are touring in support of this year's debut album "Here and Elsewhere". As is the case with touring on this scale there is no money in it and bands only cover their costs if they are able to shift a few CDs, T-shirts etc on the night ("Birmingham was good; Leicester wasn't"). If you're seeing them on the remaining dates (Sheffield, Wakefield, Cardiff, Portsmouth, London, Brighton, Bristol) make sure you take some extra spends for some of the goodies on offer some of which you can't buy elsewhere (tour only CD EP! Tour poster!) and if you're not going you can still buy some music here. The album - definitely in my top ten of the year - is highly, highly recommended.

The Set List:
"They're gone and so are we?"
All Hat No Plans
You Talk All Night
Told You So
"Poor Communication?"
Here and Elsewhere
A Change of Scenery
Bad Decisions
Bowerbirds are a three piece: Phil Moore on vocals/acoustic guitar, Beth Tacular on accordion/keyboards and vocals, and Yan Westerlund on drums. They play sometimes-ragged, sometimes-soothing alt-folk pop, strong on harmonies and stuffed with references to nature and the elements.

On record Bowerbirds can be quite a demanding listen - a bit too wayward and over-doing the lyricism at times. Tonight in such an intimate setting (I am not sure I have stood this close to an accordion before) and with central duo Phil and Beth exuding a relaxed and genial air, it was a very pleasant and agreeable set. And I don't mean to damn with faint praise.

All three players had little physical tics that not only matched the quirks and rhythms of the songs but also seemed to accompany and smooth them out: the right hand side of Phil's mouth rising on certain notes, Beth's extreme arching of her back whilst playing the accordion, drummer Yan's random shoulder lifts and brow-furrows.

Their set mixed songs from both albums (I managed to lose the set list I was keeping). 'Bur Oak' seemed to be a crowd favourite but I equally enjoyed the more recent songs. They finished with unamplified three-part harmonising and then a 'plugged in' version of 'Bright Future'. All that was missing was a campfire.

My Sad Captains
Here and Elsewhere [BUY]

Upper Air [BUY]

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