Posted in SHOFT on Sunday 25th September 2011 at 11:09pm
It had been a surprising sort of day in all kinds of senses, and having set out for Bristol in the ubiquitous and mundane fashion of catching a slow, lazy sunday afternoon train but ended up completing the journey in a sports car driven by a attractive young woman, I figured anything was possible. As I wandered through a warm, damp Bristol evening to The Cooler I pondered how all my visits here were a little bit unusual and wondered how this evening would work in this odd little venue. After trying to tackle the steep hill of Park Street nonchalantly and not to appear too hopelessly knackered by the time I reached the end of the already growing queue for entry to the venue, I exchanged playful age-related insults with the owner of the venue who stood at the door checking ID. This was a very young audience, which is of course good to see however old it makes me appear. But, there were also a few faces here who I suspected had come expecting a rather sedate evening of charming folk songs, and having had the newly released "Paradise" on fairly constant rotation over the past week, I speculated that they might perhaps not quite get what they wanted from Slow Club tonight. It was going to be an interesting evening...
Sweet Baboo performed in the same three-piece setup which took the stage at Homegame. However, things have been tightened up and honed considerably over the months - not least perhaps because audiences around the country are a little more demanding of support acts than the preaching-to-the-converted exercise of Anstruther. None of this however makes Stephen Black any less nervous as he breathlessly addresses the crowd after completing the opening "The Morse Code For Love Is Beep Beep and Beep Beep and the Binary Code is One One" - a title I'll never get tired of repeating. It's a jagged, bass heavy and full sound which suits the louder numbers, but adjusts surprisingly sensitively to the quiet elements of the set. A romp through "I'm A Dancer" is a crowd pleaser for sure - and it's good to see Sweet Baboo capturing the imagination of the sometimes troublesome Bristol audience. The set meanders around both the album and the more recent "Girl Under A Tree" EP, including a fair selection of more up-tempo numbers. When the band swings into these, it's with a confident, timelessly retro edge. This classic pop is reinforced with a storming cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Keep The Customer Satisfied". The heads of the more serious folk element of the crowd starts to bob a little here, whilst the youngsters who are almost entirely oblivious to the pedigree have a bit of a dance up the front.
Despite his nervous demeanour, Black is always an engaging frontman to watch - and his urgent stage direction keeps things flowing through a non-stop set which sees the band veer oddly across genres, before alighting on the infectious pop of "Bounce" which the audience seems to take fairly literally. Things come to a close with a more reflective air on "If I Died Would You Remember..." and to be honest I think the band could have happily carried on. Bristol audiences can be terribly unforgiving to support acts at times, but the strange generation-spanning crowd tonight seemed to really enjoy the unpredictable, idiosyncratic world of Sweet Baboo.
I thought that the days when bands strode on stage to epic intro music had long since disappeared, but that's exactly what Slow Club do tonight as the opining bars of "Paradise" thunder around the stage as Charles and Rebecca are joined by two thirds of Sweet Baboo to provide the extra edge which features on songs from the new album. It was an unsurprisingly "Paradise" heavy set tonight, and the backing track soon subsided into the clarion call of "Where I'm Waking" with its swaggering introduction. Any sense that Rebecca's mid-tour lurgy might have prevented her voice from hitting the spot is soon dispelled as she soars and dips around the jagged guitar lines. The band is tight, focused and manages to deliver the new songs alongside subtly reinvented takes on old favourites, as "All Our Most Brilliant Friends" illustrates ably. There is a quiet tension in the older songs too - a bit like the strange creeping unease I sense during David Lynch films. And when Rebecca says they're going to play a couple "...because we'll complain" they deliver faultless, spectrally pared down takes on "Come On Youth" and "I Was Unconscious It Was a Dream".
However it's encouraging to see such a strong response for the new material and personal highlights of the album "Never Look Back" and "Hackney Marsh" both receive a fantastic reception from a crowd either already familiar with the songs or more than willing to be taken along by the occasion. The harmonies on the latter are jaw-droppingly good and the now appeased folksters behind me are spotted swaying gently as Rebecca's voice hits the staggering high notes. Things just keep getting better as Steven Black turns in a surprise saxophone solo, before the band rips into a high-energy take on "Giving Up On Love". There's not a lot of banter, with Rebecca saving her vocal chords for the songs, and Charles' rather shy on-stage presence. Letting his guitar speak makes sense though, and he cranks out some surprisingly chunky, driven playing during the night. Happily there were no awkward yells of "Judas" or other Dylan goes electric moments, and everyone appeared to be won over by the bigger, feistier sound on offer. For a final encore - just when you'd think another old song would seal the deal completely, "Gold Mountain" is unveiled - and it's a revelation. A slow-burning and rather quiet interlude on the album, it is transformed into a swaying, crowd-pleasing epic here tonight.
Slow Club are never a band who take the easy path, and the gamble paid off tonight with relatively new material sitting well with an adoring crowd. So, as I wander off into the weird atmosphere of a Sunday evening with desperate revellers literally falling over themselves to get the last ounce of fun out of their weekend, I'm struck by how both of these bands manage that curious trick of getting the audience on side almost effortlessly. As you see these folks singing their hearts out on stage, it's impossible not to want them to succeed.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.