As you enter the venue at the Hare and Hounds, it is clear that this is going to be a different gig to the ones that I usually go to. Dry ice is being pumped out, the room is dimly lit and the gathering audience are conversing in hushed whispers. The opening band are Bear’s Den, a three piece folk outfit that are clearly influenced by the likes of Fleet Foxes. Their music isn’t ground breaking but they are clearly a competent collective of musicians producing pleasant songs, with the vocalist encapsulating a Damien Rice quality. The most interesting part of their instrumentation is the use of the drums, which give the tracks weight and enhance the delicate balance of the acoustic and electric guitars. Bear’s Den receive a warm reception from the audience, they left me wishing that they would experiment with the genre.
Smoke Fairies enter the stage in a truly understated manner and begin with Awake, instantly engaging the audience with their haunting vocals that resound throughout the venue. Their ability to play with the dynamics of the song and develop the performance with tremolo on the viola, demonstrate from the outset that this is to be musically extraordinary performance. The pace increases with Let Me Know illustrating the beautiful vocal harmonies that Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies are capable of producing, supported with their sensitive guitar parts that are occasionally overshadowed by the cymbals during the track. The audience wait till the final note of each track has finished resonating to show their appreciation, yet it is heartfelt and grows as the set proceeds with the exquisitely simplistic Feel It Coming In. The duo are supported on stage by a drummer, bassist, and viola/guitarist/keyboard player who each add their crafted parts to create a wonderfully skilled delivery. Between numbers, the pair are constantly tuning their guitars which does take time yet the crowd are patient and it does provide space for the duet to share comedy stories in their dead pan fashion about scary giant caves and alcohol Travelodge Olympics.
Erie Lackawanna is clear evidence of the Smoke Fairies ability to express their lyrical content through their musical interpretation with the strong passionate emphasis on keywords that enrich your understanding of the song. Despite some of their tracks having heavier elements, the audience are deadly silent throughout, fully engrossed in the ethereal beauty being unleashed upon them. Daylight illustrates the connection between all the musicians on stage, as they sense when the pauses are required and how long they last with minimal contact. Last time I heard Devil In My Mind, it was courtesy of the mighty Mark Lanegan paying tribute to the Smoke Fairies talent; the live performance of the original was boosted by the additional density of live drums. The sparseness of Blood Speaks is incredibly atmospheric, it sees Jesscia play an additional floor tom to accentuate key beats whilst the other instruments add an unusual element to build the song both dynamically and in depth; the result being utter musical splendour. As the Smoke Fairies question the point of encores, they joke about Strange Moon Rising being their last and fourth to last song and this is when the band unbridle their power. The repetitive slide based riff and simple drum beat are mesmerising and lead you to a gut wrenching solo showing their ability to produce amazingly powerful blues based rock. Summer Fades leads into their final track of the evening, a fascinating cover version of The Cult’s classic, She Sells Sanctuary. As Lanegan paid tribute with his take on their music, Smoke Fairies pay honour to The Cult by producing a unique take of the ’80s number, with a truly inspiring orchestration of the song and owning it in every way.
Without a shadow of doubt, Smoke Fairies have been the best gig I have ever seen at the Hare and Hounds. The sound levels were perfect, allowing the band to demonstrate their dynamic range without flaws, whilst their musicianship and understanding of what they are creating is phenomenal. I was unreservedly blown away and feel so privileged that I was part of the experience. Certainly check Smoke Fairies out on record but their live performance takes the music to whole other level.
Review by: Toni Woodward
Photographs: Bianca Barrett