For a while now Crushing Death and Grief have been quietly luring in the more exotic strangers to play our city’s venues (Patten, Tigercats, The Lovely Eggs), and tonight finally manage a line-up as foreboding as their name. Three acts of escalating menace, offering various shades of dark folk music to the gathering crowd.
Violet Woods started the proceedings on a somewhat poppier note than that intro would suggest, their front man bookending each song with gardening banter - distinctly un-gothic yet entertaining nonetheless. Feeling more of an indie-pop act than folk enterprise, the jangly songs had a great lounge feel about them and some lovely retro synths that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Stereolab album. They boasted a nice array of songs, and it was easy to lose oneself in each of them. Like most of the bands tonight they would have benefited from slightly more audible vocals, as sadly the lyrical content was lost on me. Consequently, the best moments came when the band cut loose from song structure and really played, the lead guitar being fleshed out with some awesome pedal work.
Special mention must be made of the final song, which delivered wholly on tonight’s promise of dramatic tension. In what felt like a complete departure from the rest of their material, the song was explosive and riveting, delving deep into an unexpected flair for melodrama. It saw each member firing on all cylinders, and finished the set on a “Fuck! How awesome were they?”-note. I’d love to see more of what they have to offer.
The second band were fantastic throughout, providing songs completely congruent with their name The Doomed Bird of Providence. Reminiscent of The Decemberists if Colin Meloy had some balls and a far bigger beard, their songs were mournful sea shanties given bite by the accordion wielding frontman’s heartily bellowed narratives. Without catching all the lyrics, it would be safe to assume pirates and pirating featured quite heavily. It was also rare to see a band of such diverse instrumentation where each voice is given space and equal consideration in the mix. Songs were laid out perfectly so that each member had the chance to shine, whether their weapon of choice was ukulele, violin, or electric guitar. Again, the set ended on a powerful note, with the band veering mid-song out of their folk idiom and into full rock mode – it was a momentous climax and incredibly well staged. Overall, the band roared and stamped through their bloody murder ballads with rousing showmanship and great playing all round. Ones to watch out for, if that sounds like your cup of tea.
Headliners Last Harbour conjure similar atmospherics by less nautical means. The singer’s trembling, seething performance implied intensely personal lyrics dramatized for the stage, his vocals split between a ‘straight’ mic and one with a ghostly echo. Far from being cheesy, the band successfully mined the same territory that The Bad Seeds might, or Tindersticks’ darker moments. Almost too successfully at times – it was hard to see their sound as truly their own, familiar as I am with their higher profile contemporaries. Rather than oppressive however, even in their deadliest undertow the songs never seem to completely abandon a feeling of redemption at their core.
Musically, the set featured some pretty distinctive moments due to the interplay between male and female vocals, the latter also providing great keys throughout. In fact the range of musicianship across the whole band was impressive; for example, the lead guitarist who frequently switched flawlessly between guitar, violin, keys and another hard-to-identify stringed instrument that looked handmade. There were many small and thoughtful flourishes. The drummer was more of percussionist, utilising things like a tambourine and pair of timpani mallets depending on the demands of the song; the captivating lead singer contributed the occasional ghostly piano motif, shaky egg, or alternately could be seen coaxing textural loops from a small contraption.
Overall, a great night of bands not commonly spotted in these parts – looking forward to the next one.