The Coral + She Drew The Gun + Cut Glass Keys @ O2 Institute, 5 October 2018

Firstly, a disclaimer: I have already spoken to other people who attended this gig and they loved it.  They describe an electric atmosphere and unforgettable performances.  I had a different experience and from my vantage point I could see the whole venue, so I feel justified in writing a slightly negative, but honest review… well, my honest opinion.

Secondly, I never really understood the attraction of The Coral, and since their debut album in 2002, each release has left me wondering what exactly is their appeal.  They are a band that splits opinion, with equal numbers of fans loving their retro stylings, and haters citing the band’s extensive body of derivative work.  I hope at least that seeing them live will give me some insight into how this band still has a strong following, when other better bands have come and gone during the last sixteen years.

There are three bands on tonight and first up is Cut Glass Kings, or as I like to think of them, ‘Cut Price Keys’, as they are a two piece band playing rock blues jams that pretty much repeats what the Black Keys were doing seventeen years ago.

More recent two piece bands have at least added something of their own to the guitar/ voice and drums set up (The Lovely Eggs, London Souls, Pale Honey for instance, and even The Black Keys quickly developed their sound);  Cut Glass Kings are treading a very well worn path.  However, saying all that, they do what they do very well and they’re from Birmingham, so what can I say… they’re fantastic.

She Drew The Gun are the reason I wanted to review this gig having missed their tours and support slots for over twelve months.  Their first album ‘Memories of the Future’ is a stunning record with beautiful timeless songs, and I have been playing it non-stop since its release.  Their second album ‘Revolution of Mind’ came out today so I have only heard the single ‘Resister’, which is how they open tonight’s gig.  Their performance feels strangely muted and lacks any of the volume of the opening band (despite having two more members), and is bereft of any real power or focus that is obvious in their recorded work.  This continues into the second song ‘Something For the Pain’ and only changes on third track ‘Pit Pony’ from their debut.

It’s as if the band’s confidence picks up with a song that has been tried and tested on the road before.  Louisa’s vocals now soar, but still the overall volume level is not punching into a seemingly indifferent audience.  The spoken word version of ‘Resister’ called ‘Resister reprise’ follows with Louisa putting down the guitar, but she seems a little timid and is not commanding the stage so the audience don’t rise to her cry.  This is more obvious during the heart-stoppingly beautiful ‘Poem’, which is quieter again as it is mostly just guitar and vocal.  The noise from the muttering crowd fights for space with Louisa’s voice and I want to tell everyone to shut up and listen.  But only a few do.  I feel like I’m watching my boy in his school play as he mutters into his hand when I know he can project with the best of them.  I know She Drew The Gun are better than this performance but the audience (apart from the row of obvious fans hanging over the front barrier) are largely not interested.

They finish with a rousing version of the cover ‘No Hole In My Head’, but the whole performance seems apologetic.  I can’t wait to see them headline at the Castle and Falcon next February; with a crowd on their side they will be lifted, because She Drew The Gun are better than this performance and then deserve a better audience than this.  As it is I did think that their live sound lacked bite; it was a bit too lightly strummed when it could have benefitted from a more attacking playing style.  Their lyrics are tight and they should show this live – I feel that the influence of producer and label boss James Skelly is blunting the beautiful sharp tool that is She Drew The Gun.  Their first album was perfection and the second album should have been leaner and meaner, Louisa should be screaming, when it feels more like a whisper; maybe I was expecting the impossible.  And as if to prove me wrong, the line of fans queuing to buy signed copies after the gig is long and hungry; more so than The Coral’s.

And now for the main event, The Coral; and I admit I wait and hope to be impressed.  But over a career spanning, nineteen song set, I still do not see the attraction.  Granted, James Skelly has a knack for crafting pop songs that sound like old friends, but I feel that is because he is a magpie of pop; taking sounds and hooks from music history and regurgitating them into his own brand of safe pop, via 60’s psychedelia, Merseybeat, post-punk jangle indie or whatever the hell it’s called:  ‘Sweet Release’ the set opener is just ‘Do or Die’ by Super Furry Animals with none of that band’s wit (although I still think that the actual main riff is just the chorus from The Damned’s ‘New Rose’, so everyone steals, it’s what you do with it that counts).  And then the ‘Million Eyes’ guitar hook is taken directly from ‘Heart Full of Soul’ by The Yardbirds, which they later cover in the set; either as a nod to greater artists, or just with a total lack of self-awareness, I couldn’t tell.  Also there is the guitar part in ‘Jacqueline’ that seems to morph into ‘Needle and Pins’.  And there’s more.. ‘1000 Years’ is just like every Byrds record ever made with their beautifully arranged vocal harmonies… and ‘Pass It On’ is too close to ‘You Like Me Too Much’ by The Beatles to be a coincidence.

I do marvel at how well The Coral pull this off, but deep down I can’t get away from the nagging feeling that I’m just watching an exceptionally gifted covers band.  For the first half of the set I think that the audience shares my view because the applause after each song is slightly muted.  I’ve been to many gigs at the Institute and watched bands from different areas within the venue, and tonight I am in the balcony, which although is often more reserved than the main floor, you can at least see everything going on below.  Usually the section in front of the stage is bouncing, whereas tonight, the whole stalls area is barely moving.  There is no shouting and screaming, just polite applause.  The only time this moves up a gear is when their biggest hit ‘In the Morning’ rings around the venue, with its horrifically memorable seven note keyboard phrase, which has taken me thirteen years to forget and now is firmly planted back in my brain.  Thanks for that.  But then when the band leaves the stage and the audience have to go through the encore charade, the clapping and shouting is not inspiring and there is a long wait before The Coral finally reemerge.  Maybe this is standard fare for a Coral gig and their fans are just reserved and quiet people.

On a positive note, bass and backing vocalist Paul Duffy is exceptional; ex-Zutons and Stands guitarist Paul Molloy rocks his socks off; and the keyboards are played faultlessly by Nick Power.  James Skelly is obviously  the focal point for the band and his vocals are a thing you love or hate… for the most part they do little for me except in the chorus of show closer ‘Dreaming of You’, when his vocal climbs high and very close to the limits of his range.  The growl he needs to get to those high notes is pretty special.

For The Coral fan, tonight is going to feel pretty special; their band played well and delivered the hits.  But for someone taking a chance on a band they weren’t sure about, I don’t believe the performance would win a neutral over.

I would welcome anyone’s thoughts on what I am missing here, so feel free to enlighten me in the comments below.

Set list:

Sweet Release

Chasing the Tail of a Dream

Something Inside Of Me

Secret Kiss

Outside My Window

Jacqueline

Pass It On

Reaching Out for a Friend

Bill McCai

In The Morning

Holy Revelation

Miss Fortune

Million Eyes

1000 Years

Heart Full of Soul (The Yardbirds cover)

Eyes Like Pearls

Rebecca You

Encore:

Goodbye
Dreaming Of You

 

Reviewer: Alan Neilson

Photographer: Ian Dunn

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