Being a live music addict can produce a false sense of having seen and heard everything. It’s reassuring that gigs still have the capacity to spring the unexpected, such as having one of the most visually striking pairings, including one of the loveliest singers, play in near darkness, and seeing Charlotte Hatherley take to the stage draped in bits of dead animal.
Tonight the Slade Rooms defined a new lighting level during the performance by School of Seven Bells: pitch red. It was either that or decrepitude is catching up on me; which may indeed be the case as my brain cells had gone AWOL for the few songs it took me to recognise Charlotte Hatherley at all in her new guise of Sylver Tongue, supporting the headliners.
School of Seven Bells or (SviiB as they are known) are a duo these days following the departure of Claudia Deheza, but live they are augmented by additional keyboards/vocals and live drums. The various tags of shoegaze and electronic dream pop don’t really do them any favours and understate the impact of their live performance. Their albums come across as hand crafted with multiple layers and, on the face of it, difficult to reproduce in a live setting. But that underestimates their musicianship and the impact that they produce on stage.
Alejandra (Alley) Deheza is a truly mesmerising figure, both visually and in the sound of her voice, and Benjamin Curtis is a suitable foil for her on stage being all angles, cheekbones and tall hair with the top of his SviiB tattoo peeping over the front his loose shirt. He is the engine room of their performances, surreptitiously using pedals and effects to augment his guitar and creating the layers of sound that underpin the distinctive vocals.
Tonight SviiB successfully combined analogue and digital, which is where Sylver Tongue slipped up. There is a bit of history in Charlotte Hatherley’s appearance here. She was the guitarist with Bat For Lashes in their support slots for SviiB last time around and may have been a late addition at the Slade Rooms. She has her own pedigree with three excellent solo albums and a career with Ash on the CV but the Charlotte on show here was no indie chick.
Sylver Tongue play electronic pop music in an almost 1980s style and it was only when she flipped the SG around from her back and moved away from the keyboards that it clicked that it was her. She seemed remarkably different but just as striking, although with a harder look; and what was the dead animal all about? To add an even more incongruous feel to proceedings her band members appeared to be sporting patches of hair on their shoulders.
I liked what they had to offer in terms of the music but they lost some of the audience half way through their set. This may have been due to the peculiar combination of electronic and analogue drums. To say that the cross over wasn’t exactly seamless is an understatement. Maybe it was down to the demons of sound checking a support band but it was a distraction.
Opening band Silhouettes avoided any such problems by sticking to the electronic format. It was enjoyable stuff and there was more of a touch of Maps and Wild Beasts about them and it would be good to see them do a full set in their own right. The three-piece kept it all together admirably perched amongst all the band’s gear on the shallow stage.
SviiB based the majority of their set on their latest outing Ghostory. There is an apparent concept to the album that ardent fans find enthralling but to me this band is all about sound. In a manner similar to someone like the Cocteau Twins the vocal becomes part of the music, rather than the music being an accompaniment. Not that any of the lyrics are that opaque or incomprehensible Elizabeth Fraser – style, but the vocals develop into that same emotional expression so that the actual words become secondary.
In the live setting they don’t have the luxury of fidelity that is accessible in the studio and it was apparent that they knew exactly what they were about in enhancing the impact of the songs; at one point Ben was complaining about the on-stage db limiter looking to “really wind it up”.
They opened with the excellent Windstorm which I thought would be an encore but Love Play and Scavenger really stood out for me, (as I hope my dodgy youtube clip shows) and the likes of White Wind and Low Times show that you can’t deny your past. There is a real Secret Machine feel to these songs, which either means Ben has taken a lot from that band or show how much he contributed when he was part of them.
I remember thinking when this date was announced that the Slade Rooms and indeed Wolverhampton may not have been a typical location for a SviiB gig. At one point Ben announced that they were there because of an excitable young lady called Jasmine who hung on the barrier all night. Who is she – an uber-fan, forum leader or stalker? Whatever – if it was all down to her then thanks Jasmine; SviiB were marvellous.
Bye Bye Bye
When You Sing
Review: Ian Gelling
Photography: Stephanie Colledge