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 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 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.
BansheeVa – Janus. The title character can be described as ‘….god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, frames, and endings…’. That just about sums up the mind-expanding pathways of this jumpy psychedelic instrumental extravaganza.
Death To Slow Music – Pressure. Two minutes of minimalist punk single line bass and guitar erupting into an explosive chorus.
People Look Like Dogs – Allan Thinks We Don’t Move. Probably the best combination of band and track name on the album for this untamed cacophony of guitars, drums and wild vocal.
Jaymotts – Love Paralysis. Retro jazz-funk, sounding enigmatically timeless.
Collars – Hey Lizzie, Lay It On Me full review here
Creepy Neighbour – The Optimist. Striking but slightly disturbing piano-led ballad featuring a strong vocal from Max Taylor along with lush string stylings.
Naomi Randall – Cabbage White. Lovely indie folk; evocative and effortless with the acoustic guitar adorned with other subtle instrumentation and echoing voices to frame Naomi’s sublime vocal.
Dom Howard – Cascade Mix. Like a coda to the previous track, a sparkling guitar chimes out a repeated riff over the lightest of jazzy backing before an introspective solo.
Lady Birdface – (I’m Gonna Give You) The Clap. DIY pop splendour from creative multi instrumentalist and songwriter Kate Shore, full of barbed edges and sparse couplets ‘…don’t you look too close or you’ll feel morose…’
Sunday Driver – Time Machine. Classy acoustic steampunk fusion and sinuous vocal whisks the listener into a cabaret club of the future.
Percy Black – Code Name Covid-19. If you need reminding about the subject, this is as pleasant way as it could be, super-smooth reggae with golden-voiced lead and backing vocals and laced with brass and sax; the messages are clear, ‘….give the scientists the wisdom to eliminate Covid-19….’
Tom Bainbridge – Nocturne. All-acoustic multi-layered piece, built around a gently swinging pendulum rhythm and a chorus of voices.
Keith Somerville – Red Angel. A loosely structured prog-psych song pulls the listener into a spiral of mellow musings, interrupted by a surprise electric solo.
Helefonix – Song Thrush Serenade. Pure atmosphere of delight here as sampled birdsong tonally competes with the semi-ambient electronics.
The Routine – Come Knocking At My Bedroom Door. Strong rock-pop anthem from Cambridge/London quartet with the upfront vocal and musical intricacies giving way to a huge chorus.
A new LP from Cambridge folk-psych collective Fuzzy Lights delivers on many levels. Opening track ‘Maidens Call’ threads a contemplative vocal over a loping bass line with violin interludes, but it is the second track ‘Songbird’ that opens the consciousness into a ten minute psychedelic workout, full of energy, colour and a voice that inhabits the darkness.
‘Graveyard Song’ strips the sound back into a sinister medieval acoustic ballad gradually building into a big instrumental coda. There is so much going on in this excellent album, like the languid interlude and speculative history of ‘Haraldskaer Woman’ contrasting with the sweeping folk-rock momentum of ‘Under The Waves’. ‘Sirens’ is possibly my favourite; with the descending chord sequence, timeless and mysterious vocal, dissonant chorus and enough noise to lose yourself in.
Ending with the ‘The Gathering Storm’, using all of its nearly seven minutes running time to build atmospheric musings over a persistent bass note this album pulls you in for an unchartered musical journey….
From the angst of the band name to the opening tension of the lyric,‘…tell me I been walking a thin line…and I’ll be towing it as soon as you say…’, R.J. Archer & The Painful Memories are back with a blistering burst of troubled blues rock. Last heard from on their self-titled EP from 2019 (reviewed below) featuring the edgy majesty of lead track ‘It’s Snowing In Hell’, this new release is a forerunner to their delayed debut long-player ‘Hot Mess’.
A punchy, up tempo cut from this Cambridge trio, ‘Who Am I Supposed To Love Now?’ is firmly rooted in the groove of the sort of cool and credible blues-infused record that would appear regularly and successfully in the pop charts of the late 1960s and 70s. It is a summary of lovelorn discontent set to sparse instrumentation, emotionally raw vocals and featuring twisty guitar links, a roving bassline and drums always on the verge of being fully unleashed. And, of course, all in less than three minutes…
The debut single from Cambridge band Apteekii starts with a gentle but moody piano punctuated by restless electronic pulses. The lyric soon sets the tone of the message of this track with the bleak ‘….just another Saturday…as you scream into the void…..alI I hear is birds that tweet….’. It is portraying a swirling mix of the pernicious influences of fake news, distorted messages and the exploitation of negative social media. This is chillingly shown by the infamous comments that scroll behind the song words within the video.
It is not all downbeat – despite the despairing ‘….the more I read, the less I see, the less I understand…’ of the chorus the music sounds more optimistic. It is lifted by layers of synthesiser with a rich cello sound and there are glimmers of hope; ‘…so be my guide…to know what’s right…before it’s washed away…’ could be a fragment from a tender love song.
This is a complex, immaculately produced and thoughtful debut from this talented trio.