Candelershuys, Ukkel, 21st October 2011
Luck of the draw has OK Cowboy on at 19:30, and traffic and difficult parking conspire to me also missing Laughing Academy.
OK Cowboy, I have heard good things about and I've managed to miss them for about 2 years now. But Flupke & Simon from the Narcotic Daffodils are out in force and assure me they are very good. Though they also missed them. Laughing Academy, they reported, had some great songs, but that it hadn't scaled up that well to the full band, and the main guy (clearly the singer-songwriter) needs to choose either voice or guitar, but both at once wasn't quite working.
We Stood Like Kings
Sort of Coldplay does Post-Rock is my first impression. 2 large amps, a drum kit, a piano and a huge pedal board leave little room for 4 musicians on stage. Post rock live tends to be either utterly entrancing or overly repetitive and clinical, but they are neither (to be fair they've only been going in this form for 3 months). Their previous incarnation as Pan-Spherics gives a fair idea of what they sound like - gentle and competent prog-post-rock.
I don't think the laptop with a synth / atmosphere backing / click helped - I thought it was maybe a bit restrictive, and they'd be better if they were a bit freer. Try processing the piano instead.
Wierd choice to put an instrumental post-rock band on for Singer Songwriter night...
There's 5 of them, but they fit on stage better than the last lot. Seems to be built around a guitar/vocal duo (both do both), with some discrete extras on bass, drums and piano. They really haven't paid any attention whatsoever to their image, and don't even look consistently scruffy.
The first song is OK, despite being a 2 chord trick. Her vocals are quite Dolly Parton like - strident, distinctive, cuts through the mix. The lanky one in a hat has a very different Hillbilly-Johnny Cash type voice, and despite the contrast between the two voices, they work very well together both alternating and in harmony.
But this is not country. There's a lot of folk and 60's pop, and they really reminded me of The Magic Numbers. In fact, they have everything, with one but. For that style of music, you can't rely on 2 chords. You have to have great songs, with great melodies and memorable choruses. They're so very nearly there, but as they are now, they fall flat.
Work on the choruses and dig the melodies out guys. And learn a new chord.
The Sunshine Remedy
Sax and reggae Bass are clearly harder to mix, but there's no drums to balance, and once the guitar is put back in its place, the sound is verging on OK.
They remind me of what passed as reggae from Doe Maar or UB40. The 1st song suffers from the lack of drums, but the intelligent choice of musicians and a good, confident and positive delivery carry the song.
James swaps his piano for a banjo and a flute in song 2, just as an Eagles like intro pops through on the guitar. These singer songwriters (again, 2 in this band, but not a proper 'duo') have put a lot of attention into the detail - not only in writing good songs with proper choruses, but in varying the material, and producing something I find myself just naturally singing along to.
James takes over the guitar and lead vocals for something quite English folkie a la Nick Drake, which relegates Patrick to harmonica and harmonies. Now THIS IS GOOD. Class songwriting, and performance/presentation/delivery to match.
I missed a drummer on the uptempo stuff, but that's really the only flaw. The material is good, the presentation is excellent, the bass and sax are not just there to fill up the stage, but really sound like they're part of the band. With the right production and management, I could see this becoming very radio-friendly and mass market. IMHO, they have the most commercial potential of any band I've seen so far.
This is what I expected to see on a singer songwriter's night - one guy with a guitar.
He has brought a fairly vocal fanclub with him, and whilst the songs are not brilliant, they are OK, and do not suffer from the spartan presentation. Unfortunately, there is an overreliance on the four-chord-trick, and the set suffers from it.
Here comes another song which relies on a 4-chord pattern repeated throughout. It's a shame, as he's good at picking out melodies, but if he worked just a proper chorus and the occasional bridge into what he does, it would be so, so much better.
As the last act, he has the privilege of an encore - a cover of Tracy Chapman's Revolution. Which just like the rest of his set, is a 4-chord trick without a proper chorus...
If you're wondering what a 4 chord trick it, these guys make a pretty good job of explaining it:
Admittedly, you can write a great song with just 4 chords, but 3 of the 4 bands I've seen tonight have dished out most of their material where there's nothing else in the song. Something like a chorus with a key change or a bridge could have given at least 2 of the acts an extra dimension. And when you can refer to Motown or Beatles tabs through the internet in seconds, it's not exactly rocket science.