Monday, February 20, 2006

A Weekend Hard On The Hearing

Tilly and The Wall/Emmy The Great/Frankie Machine/The Long Beach
Attack! Attack! at the Buffalo Bar – 19th Feb 2006

Blimey - I've been out three times in as many nights. That hardly happens these days! A great night at Bosh! at the Barfly on Friday (with a rousing, spirited performance from Roll Deep), Union at ULU on Saturday (with the excellent reggae/hip hop hybrid Nullbug) and finally this superb night at the Buffalo Bar in Highbury. What a great event. Four artists of consistently engaging quality, DJs spinning a mind boggling variety of great music (Smog, Annie, Prince and, ahem, Bon Jovi all featured), quick changeovers between the artists – it’s just a shame that the venue doesn’t serve any decent beer. The good folks at Exercise 1 Recordings assembled a really great line-up for this one, with new Moshi Moshi signings Tilly and The Wall topping the bill. All the acts were different and highly individualistic - but presenting them at the same event seemed logical and considered, rather than the usual ragbag of mediocrity you tend to find at small-ish London venues.

I have to concede that opening act The Long Beach didn’t do all that much for me. I suspect it was something to do with their penchant for aggressive strumming of amplified (and frequently distorted) acoustic guitars, along with some slightly grating and earnest vocals. There was probably plenty to admire in these songs, but there seemed to be a fair bit of over-emoting smothering it all.

Thank goodness then for Frankie Machine, guitarist for MJ Hibbett’s Validators and excellent songwriter in his own right, bringing some poise, wit and subtlety to the occasion. These songs are delicate and tender, yet also wise and sympathetic. It was probably inevitable that the crowd would talk through his quietly compelling set, as the emphasis was very much on the ‘quiet’ – but this should do nothing to detract from a performance that was both considered and warm.

It’s somewhat ridiculous that this was the first live performance I’ve managed to catch from Emmy The Great, an associate of Jeremy Warmsley and outstandingly imposing singer-songwriter. This is love-it-or-hate-it-stuff: Quirky, elaborate and highly tangential prose poems delivered in a voice that oscillates unpredictably between something soothing and bitingly harsh. Naturally, I loved it! Emmy’s quirky demeanour on stage (an individual dress sense, right down to the classic gym plimsoles and a tendency to lean towards the microphone awkwardly to emphasise certain elements of the lyrics) adds to the overall impression that she could easily earn her place in the pantheon of Great British eccentrics. There are elements of the insularity of Kate Bush or Bill Fay, but she avoids pretension by achieving a quirkiness which seems natural rather than hard-won and also through deploying some ingratiating humour. One song has a lyric which goes something like ‘I was doing alright/Until you came and spoiled it/Every time I see you/I have to rush to the toilet/I don’t know if it’s love or just a stomach disorder…’ If that’s not audacious enough, she goes on to rhyme disorder with ‘aorta’! This was genuinely one of the most striking and powerful performances from a singer-songwriter I’ve seen in recent years, even if she was in a hurry to get off stage to see the headliners. She’s about to go on tour with Euros Childs – definitely one not to miss!

Tilly and The Wall are apparently associates of Conor Oberst and the whole Saddle Creek scene, but they reject his frustrating excesses with something much more whimsical. It’s the sort of thing that works very well in small doses, and tonight it would have been churlish to resist their appealing mix of Phil Spector girl-pop, high school cheerleading, childlike wonder and tap dancing. Yes – tap dancing! There’s no drummer on stage, but plenty of intricate rhythmic invention nonetheless. Whilst this could so easily have been a gimmick too far, it probably avoided the band from becoming yet another lightly chugging indie act. It all felt a little frivolous for sure, but delightfully so, and these infectious, enervating songs made for a neat contrast to the introspection of the support acts. Were there enough room in the somewhat cramped venue, they would certainly have got the crowd dancing. They maintained a high level of energy throughout, and although much of the album got an airing – the new songs seemed to be the most memorable, hinting that there may be a future in the long term for this charming and highly entertaining band.

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