Friday, February 26, 2010


I arrived at this gig with high expectations. I had heard much about David Thomas Broughton live but had always missed out. I’ve followed and listened to the last three Shearwater albums – but never seen them perform live either. And now here they are on the same bill - perfect. Glad to report that tonight neither disappointed.

I could tell you David Thomas Broughton performs acoustic folk-blues with occasional loops but this doesn’t even begin to convey the experimentation, the mischief or the cleverly executed performance that accompanies the music. You can only experience it.

He begins to play holding acoustic guitar high on his chest and enunciating words (“piffle”, “muck-spreader”, “louse”) with detail, relish and long rolled ‘r’s. All very folky. He adds to this sounds and rhythms created by looping guitar or drum beats or his voice but also through heavy breathing, wordless laughing, drawing a scarf over the microphone, even running the microphone from his temple down the side of his face to his chin. If Lady Gaga were to do this it would be high camp. When a bearded man from Leeds with staring eyes does this, it’s just plain menacing.

And it’s difficult to work out what is music and what is theatre; what is there to add to the songs and what is there to entertain, confuse or alarm. Talking of which there was also the old rape-alarm-in-the-pocket-goes-off-mid-song trick. He finished playing against an off-stage chanted chorus from Shearwater encouraging us to laugh at David Thomas Broughton. Well there may have been humour tonight but this performance was no laughing matter. I can’t wait until I can next see him live.

So this high drama and musical dexterity was a perfect entrée to Shearwater. You know something special is going to happen when the drummer Thor Harris, looking as though he would equally be happy in a metal band, walks on stage holding a clarinet.

Shearwater songs are gliding, often rarefied, majestic celebrations of the natural world, migration, birdlife and (on latest album "The Golden Archipelago") islands. On record the songs are carefully sequenced to fit together as a suite. And so live this is what Shearwater played: the first six or seven songs were performed almost as a seamless piece with no spoken interludes but plenty of movement between instruments.

Jonathan Meiburg moved between lead guitar (standing) and keyboard duties (seated); but also the second guitarist and keyboard player swapped (or played bass or trumpet on occasion); and Kim the bass player alternated between upright and electric bass. On 'Hidden Lakes' the bassist and drummer both played glockenspiel whilst the guitarist beat out a rhythm lying down in front of the kick-drum. I lost track of what everyone else was doing – it wasn’t quite the theatre of David Thomas Broughton but the versatility on show was engaging as the music.

Whilst some Shearwater songs are grandiose and dramatic, most are all restraint, delicacy and even gentle drift, with Meiburg’s floating falsetto hovering above. And both types translated beautifully live, given a bit of oomph through the emphatic playing and even touches of squally feedback. Towards the end of the set Shearwater played a trio of songs that caught this magically: the raw ‘Century Eyes’ followed by the fragile ‘I Was A Cloud’ (with the lights dimmed) and the dramatic ‘Seventy Four Seventy Five’.

A great evening of music with depth, beauty and even a bit of theatre. They might not share a bill again soon but watch out for future dates from both: unmissable.

The Golden Archipelago [BUY]

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