Are you sitting comfortably? Right, then I’ll begin…
Once upon a time in a magical kingdom far, far away (oh alright then, it was Birmingham) there was a rather fine band called The Allies. They had more than a touch of the Arctic Monkey’s about them (no bad thing), but one or two tracks hinted at a more unusual Celtic flavoured direction. For some reason they split up (‘musical differences’ no doubt). Now several of them (there seemed to be about 97 people in The Allies) have returned as part of a brand new five piece, Goodnight Lenin.
Ditching the indie direction entirely they’ve gone all folk harmonies – Simon & Garfunkel meets CSNY on the way to a barbecue at Bob Dylan’s house (B.Y.O.B…Dylan’s a bit of a tight arse).
When I say brand new I mean it. This was only their second gig. Their MySpace thingy currently features a mere brace of tracks recorded in a kitchen (one of the band told me they planned to play a lot more kitchens in the future… makes a lot of sense to me, you can make a nice cup of tea halfway through the gig and rustle up a bacon sarnie if you get peckish).
Whilst the MySpace tracks are acoustic the live sound’s beefed up by drums, amps, fiddles… one of the singer’s mum’s raucous laughter… so it’s a lot richer sounding. The one constant though are those gorgeous three part harmonies.
I know they’ve sung together in one form or another in the past (so they’ve got a bit of a head start) but, for a group that’s only performed live in front of an audience for half an hour so far, this was simply a stunningly good performance with moments magical enough to tingle the strongest of spines. ‘Wenceslas Square’, ‘Crook in the Creek’ and ‘Incendiary’ were all crackingly good but, to be honest, there wasn’t a dud in the set for me.
Second on the bill, ahoy there m’hearties, pieces of eight etc etc it’s Mutineers.
With echoes of such 80’s indie luminaries as the Lotus Eaters (‘First Picture of You’) and Fiction Factory (‘Feels Like Heaven’), especially on tracks like ‘Shadow Kisses’ (one of their set highlights tonight) there’s a lot to like about this motley crew Jim lad (actually they weren’t motley at all, they looked like lovely lads, but I have to keep this tiresome analogy going now I’ve started it don’t I?).
Some nice jangly guitars, Nicolas’ angelic vocals (shades of Billy Mackenzie) and poetic lyrics (cop a load of “All the shallow graves laid by Chinese whispers. Through these sliding doors cursed with shadow kisses”) combined to cast aside any thoughts of making the band walk the plank.
Finally it’s The Twilight Sad. Awww…shame. Cheer up chaps. It’s not that bad. Why so sad? Oh, your girlfriends have all run off with your best friends, taking your record collections with them. What’s that? They nicked your favourite jazz mag too? And made several long distance calls to a Thai brothel before they left resulting in a massive ‘phone bill and the unwelcome attention of several ladyboys who want to “love you long time?” Wow. I think I’d be a little sad too. That explains the music I guess.
A mix of Glasvegas, Arab Strap and (swirly walls of guitar noise ahoy) The Jesus and Mary Chain it’s pretty miserable stuff, but miserable (done right) can, in a perverse kind of way, be uplifting too. What The Twilight Sad manage to do quite brilliantly, especially in the live performance, is to avoid making it all seem tooooo dark and depressing.
There’s a defiant quality in the performance, a celebration of the ying and yang of life all set against a torrent of guitars, some clattering drums and intriguing angst ridden lyrics. Take ‘And She Would Darken the Memory’ for instance:
“Head up dear, you’re shallow and blind
Head up dear, the rabbit might die
Because they’re putting,ï»¿ the boot in, tonight”
Easy listening it ain’t, but then life ain’t a bed o’ roses all the time is it? At times tonight the music enveloped us like a thick fog (there literally was a thick fog in the venue too thanks to a highly efficient smoke machine…) but it was a warm, strangely comforting embrace, a little like being hugged by a drunken reveller on New Year’s Eve. James, the lead singer, helped to create and sustain this atmosphere. He seemed genuinely touched that so many people had turned up to see them.
I imagine next time round, as more people catch up with them, he’ll be even more touched. He also seemed totally lost in the performance, not in a fancy ‘look at me’ kind of way, but genuinely singing as though his very life depended on it. On ‘I Became a Prostitute’ this really shone through, the quite and loud bits giving him the chance to show his softer as well as his harder side. At one point during the gig he knelt down in front of the drums, beating a drumstick against them with such ferocity that it splintered clean in two.
Like I say, there was nae any pretence here. As Richy Manic would’ve carved it, this was ‘4 real’. During ‘And She Would Darken the Memory’, he abandoned his microphone altogether and ended up bravely howling out the words against the wall of noise. Like many of life’s battles depicted in their songs it was one he couldn’t possibly win, but the fact that he tried says everything you need to know about this band’s heart and soul.