Having already released one of this year’s slow burning records, Shearwater are having quite a 2008. Their live reputation proceeds them. Having heard good things about their show at End of The Road, and a report of a ‘near religious experience’ at their London show, it was safe to say I was looking forward to the nights show.
Opening for Shearwater tonight was Drift Collective’s Birdengine (aka Lawry Tilbury). With dark lyrics (as in ‘he makes Nick Cave sound like S Club 7’) and a sombre baritone accompanied only by his gently picked guitar Birdengine weaves his tales with a suitably sombre air. Employing his rich vocal alongside a frankly haunting falsetto, Birdengine seemed to be a hit with the other bands and the audience alike. Radar Brothers describe him in their set as ‘Beautiful and Haunting’, while Shearwater main man Jonathan Meiburg hails his set as containing the ‘best onstage banter ever.’ After his criminally underrated debut last year, he may well be a name to watch out for over the next year.
Radar Brothers seem to be a nice group of people, amiable and joking within the band and with the audience. Sadly, the music they produce is rather lumpen in places. It isn’t that it is bad per se, rather it simply meanders along pleasantly in a major chord jangle. Placed between the stark, stripped down Birdengine and the lush full sound of Shearwater the set fell rather flat.
By the time Shearwater take the stage, the venue is alive with energy, and the five piece multi instrumentalists clearly thrive on it. In an age where every other band seems to feature a ‘multi-instrumentalist’, it is still a joy to see a group of such multi talented musicians at work. There are not many bands who can boast a drummer who also plays bowed xylophone, clarinet and hammered dulcimer. The fact that said drummer looks like a viking warrior and spent the majority of the evening talking to fans and listening intently to the support acts all adds to the charm. After years of heavy touring Shearwater are undoubtedly a class act, and have been quite the live spectacle for a few years now. Tonight was the last night of the European tour, and followed an apparently triumphant set at London’s St. Giles Church. Perhaps through repetition or tiredness, Shearwater’s combination of finely crafted songwriting and noise didn’t quite ring true tonight. Sure the songs were there, and when the band joined together and frontman Meiburg strained the veins in his neck there were moments of brilliance, yet somehow the noisy side of things felt somehow subdued, or controlled, rather than exuberant and instinctive. Perhaps the dark downstairs bar of a wet seaside town on a Monday evening was a bit of comedown after the beauty of the London venue.
Flitting between guitar, banjo and keyboard, frontman Meiburg has a voice to be reckoned with, seeming to channel the warmth of Owen Pallet with a hint of the original folk rockers Fairport Convention creeping in to the mix as well on the likes of ‘Leviathan, Bound’, which features drummer Thor on a rather rudimentary looking dulcimer. While I have no doubt that their multi instrument sound may draw comparisons with fellow texan Win Butler and his cohorts, there is far more subtlety here, and a distinct lack of bombast. Even more than on it’s recorded version, ‘The Snow Leopard’ comes on like an alt. country take on Amnesiac period Radiohead. Returning to the stage for their much demanded encore, the band seem re-energised, and tear through a triumphant cover of former tour mates Clinic’s ‘Tomorrow’. The motorik rhythm seems to fit the band well, and without doubt it is the high point of the night. Judging by the rapturous response Shearwater seem to have truly won over a notoriously fickle Brighton crowd. As I fend my way home along the damp streets after the show I hear the same phrase over and over again.
New. Favourite. Band.
At this rate, it seems Shearwater will have to prepare themselves for an even busier 2009.