First on stage at this sold out show was Kezia Gill; with her strong vocals and witty lyrics she won the audience over playing her opening track ‘Country Song’, featured on her 2021 EP ( reviewed here). From the tender reminiscence of ‘Local Man’s Star’ to the partying ‘Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman’, Kezia was a shining opening act.
From the USA, Eric Paslay has an impressive CV of collaborations, hit songs and awards. Tonight his engaging performance of these carefully crafted tracks brought the listeners into his world of subtle disquiet and emotional celebration.
It has been a long delay before headliners The Shires arrived in Cambridge for this tour but tonight’s show made up for the wait. The duo were supported by a spot-on band for a set that alternated rockers (‘Lightning Strikes’), grand ballads (recent single ‘I See Stars’), and the emotional pull of very personal statements (not a dry eye in the house for ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’). Ben and Crissie are an instantly likeable pair, with the great strength that the two individual vocals can carry a song brilliantly but the combined harmonies of both voices are on another quite magical plane.
In a show of many highlights, by the time we reached the big finish of ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs’ the combined hands of the audience were definitely waving up to the heavens…
A musical highlight in the ‘Sound + Vision’ multi venue festival bringing new and established music and comedy to the city.
Unfortunately we missed indie strategists Death to Slow Music but arrived in time for some of the psychedelic noise burst of Cambridge favourites Lemondaze, fresh from a support slot for cult shoegazers Ride the previous evening. As on previous encounters, the density of the band’s sound engulfs the intimate confines of the Portland but there is always a loose and off beat ambience that warms the soul.
Chester-based trio Peaness played the whole of their soon to be released long-player ‘World Full of Worry’, starting with the gentle acoustics of ‘Take A Trip’ and the punchy previous single ‘Kaizen’. Full of light and shade the songs are relentlessly likeable and there is always instrumental twists and delights, given extra depth with the inclusion of a keyboard player for this opening night of their tour.
‘Doing Fine’ carries subtle sadness along with a crisp melody as does ‘Left To Fall Behind’ with the haunting refrain ‘…hoping for the best…preparing for the worst…’. The superb pop of ‘Hurts ’til it Doesn’t’ is identified by the band as a Beatles-type composition then the wistful ‘Sad Song’ finishes the main set.
Audience favourite ‘Oh George’ showcases Peaness at their best; politically biting, sharply delivered vocally and musically, but always with warmth and humour. Then ‘Same Place’ is a celebration of friendship before the emotional flourish of ‘Skin Surfing’ brings this excellent show to an end.
It was a full venue for the return of Public Service Broadcasting to Cambridge, along with opening act EERA, also part of PSB for this tour. EERA’s free-flowing sensuous songs build around sparse instrumentation and her echoing voice, especially on the low-fi ‘Christine’. She moved into rawer territory for ‘Ladder’ when PSB surprisingly appeared as a rocking backing band towards the end of this well-received set.
Public Service Broadcasting have broadened their distinctive sound with longer instrumental pieces on their new Berlin concept album ‘Bright Magic’, strongly featured tonight and described by the band; ‘….the album’s theme is light… the light bouncing off of Dietrich’s cheekbones, of neon signs in the rain. I wanted to celebrate movement, colour and joy in an urban environment….’
Decked out in white suits and with of course a brilliant sequence of lights and visuals their long set maintains unstoppable momentum.
The ‘Every Valley’ mining community tracks take on a distinct poignancy this evening as the Glasgow Climate talks were taking place at the same time, but the older ‘Sputnik’, ‘E.V.A.’, ‘The Other Side’ seem to be a timeless slice of history. 2014’s ‘The Race For Space’ also provides two of their showstoppers; ‘Gagarin’ complete with dancing astronauts and the manic energy finale of ‘Go’.
EERA’s vocals soared throughout, particularly in the glorious ‘Blue Heaven’, probably my favourite song of the night out of so many highlights. As the brass section added textures to the last song ‘Everest’ there was no doubt that PSB continue to be a formidable live attraction.
A much-anticipated show at this fine all-purpose venue, opening tonight with the passionate performance and emotionally powerful ballads of Dan Owen. First track ‘Icarus’ immediately pulled the audience in and with his warm anecdotes and a barnstorming blues rendition of ‘Little Red Rooster’ he set the positive tone for the evening.
After many years of performing and a long career break, County Affair are a four-piece having a second life promoting an Abbey Road recorded album of a new batch of Americana songs. The tracks deal with eternal country music themes, joined with a likeable background of accordion, keys, guitar and percussion.
Ward Thomas started with the low-key duet ‘Dear Me’ and as soon as they segued into the descending vocal harmonies in the chorus of ‘No Fooling Me’ and the bitter-sweetness of ‘Cartwheels’ we knew that the emotional and musical magic was all in place. With varying amounts of input from their empathetic band this was a fantastic set, balanced between the pop oriented songs of 2019’s ‘Restless Minds’ album and the big country ballads such as ‘Guilty Flowers’ and the stomping ‘I Believe In You’ as well as the heart-tearing ‘Someday’ and ‘One More Goodbye’. With final encore ‘Safe’ performed as just a duo the show had gone full circle as the harmonies gently floated in the air.
A new EP from Cambridge quartet Bouquet Of Dead Crows, following on from Part 1 ‘Celestial’, released back in April 2020 (see review below)……
1.Idle Thoughts : Don’t be fooled by the quiet intro, the deep dark guitar and bass soon steers the track into raw rock territory, as the vocal calls across the wasteland in this ever-changing epic.
2.Standing At The Precipice : Faster work-out for the band, especially the fireworks drumming, but full of surprises with time signature and dynamics changes all packed into two minutes thirty.
3.One More Sunrise : Straight into the soulful tones of a thoughtful ballad structure which alternates with some of the heaviest rock on the collection.
4.The Longest Road : The Crows are adept at creating longer conceptually rich pieces; this elegantly brooding anthem has the time and space to deliver the full emotional impact.
5.Somewhere In The Static : Built around the most satisfying bass and guitar riff at the start the vocal builds over the descending chord pattern to a false finish part way through. This song has many moods; weaving together the finesse of some of the prog rock directions of the band with sections of sledgehammer power to make it a fitting end to the double EP.
First onstage was US singer/songwriter Samantha Crain, a performer with a quiet authority evident from the first track ‘Joey’; a languid leisurely waltz with the gentle instrumentation as a perfect platform for her rich vocals. The tempo was increased for ‘Pastime’ and through her short set her accompanying musician played pedal steel, second guitar and keys to add extra colour to the involving narrative strengths of the songs. A highlight was the emotive tale told in ‘Elk City’, sung to a solo guitar as her overall performance effortlessly won over the audience.
The Staves create an intimate and welcoming musical atmosphere; opening song ‘Failure’ features the harmonies and indie folk rock ambience that instantly draws the listener in. Sisters Camilla and Jessica (Emily is currently not touring) are joined by an empathetic band that knows how much to push the sound forward or keep in the background more for a track like ‘Good Woman’; the title song from the 2021 album that makes up most of the set.
The songs can move into moody territory like the walk through a dark forest of ‘Blood I Bled’ or luxuriate in the deceptively simple beauty of ‘Make It Holy’. It all flew by in a delicious haze of ethereal melody and musical textures, a triumphant performance after too long away..
A collection of songs from Adam Sherif and Julia Oertli, also known as London-based indie duo th’sheridans, celebrating plenty of their back catalogue of addictive ‘incongru-pop‘.
The bleakly atmospheric ‘Cabot Cove’ from 2014 opens the listings then the words and music of ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Dismembered’ pull the listener right into their world as the two and a bit chords punch and roam. ‘Welcome To Town, Pussycats’ has the guitar voice and drums racing each other in a winning combination before ‘Architecture’ is a cleverly twisted social commentary ending with a emotive viola solo from Julia.
‘Hot Day in 20-05’ is one of my favourites; a compact mix of pace, pathos and bursts of electric mayhem, flowing nicely into the similar atmosphere of pre-released single ‘Awesome Summers & Kate’. ‘Ashley Is A Geek’ is a Ramones style mini rock opus, contrasting with the folk-powered guitar of ‘A Quiet Year’.
And there is much much more, the fourteen tracks constantly varying in tone and pushing the minimal instrumentation in all directions, culminating in the finale ‘Keep Warm’ where Adam’s vocals carry the restrained reflection and regret of the lyric with conviction.
The album is a heartwarming, rich and fun compilation of thoughtful but edgy DIY pop.
A new single from Cambridge ensemble Tape Runs Out is a dreamy tribute to the bearded dragon belonging to lead singer Liam.
Starting with a hypnotic figure generated by the haunting sonics of the hammered dulcimer the track adds layers of acoustic texture to produce a stately paean to the precious pet ‘….Barry you know we’re here for you….Barry won’t you stay with us…’.
The song gently eases along but continues to build the boldness of the sound with strings, a guitar solo and overall a feeling of melancholy and lost prog-folk drifting off into the ether. Watching the video it doesn’t seem like the languid lizard is going to wander too far away anyway, but this track acts as a splendid showcase for the instrumental possibilities and otherworldly viewpoint of future recordings from this unique group of musicians.
A gorgeous new single from Katy Hurt; a country waltz full of wistful regret that is another example of her strong songwriting talent.
Starting with a gentle free-form guitar introduction the band ease into the mix with a shuffling, easy rhythm that creates instant atmosphere. Instrumentally this is judged perfectly but the glorious vocal performance from Katy is the show-stopper. As the feelings and tension are only just restrained the listener is pulled into her world of possible heartbreak, ‘…..I’m searching for the rhyme or reason for what’s going on…we’re supposed to be closer than ever before….but somehow we’re further away…’.
It is a track that is at the opposite end of the spectrum to many of Katy’s previous rockier releases such as the pop energy of ‘See Ya Later’ and the road trip narration of ‘Revved Up’. The new track ‘Face to Face’ has parallels with the pensive poetry of her excellent 2019 ballad ‘Unfinished Business’, ‘….there’s a book on a nightstand I’m ten pages in and the spine has already been broken….’, a song full of raw emotional imagery resolving into the melodic grace of the chorus.