All photos by Johnny Moto
There is much talk of Oxford possessing a music scene which punches above its weight these days. Although only a small city with a handful of music venues, it has in recent years produced the likes of Foals, Stornoway and The Epstein. Oddly, tonight’s show is advertised by long-running local zine Nightshift as an EP launch show , even though the new Epstein record is some way off completion. Nevertheless, headliners, venue and support all demonstrate the rude health Oxford’s music finds itself in.
It’s a sign of The Bully’s commitment to live music that the music room, the “Back Room at the Bully”, is at least as large as the rest of the establishment. Though the few seats are taken early on, the ample standing room is filled up slowly until openers The Yarns take to the stage. Claiming Oxford as an adopted home city, this lean four-piece are frequently compared to local heroes Stornoway and while they do possess a laid-back, folksy appeal, they add in a few surprises with trumpet, the occasional barbed lyric, and a detour into leftfield funk on one of their last songs; an intriguing set.
Perhaps surprisingly Left With Pictures have never before played an Oxford show. One or two unfortunate technical issues afflict the early songs, but the sheer infectious happiness of the band’s material shines through. Although the set covers a varied chunk of the their growing discography, it’s the tracks from the wonderful 2008 EP Secretly which very nearly prove to be the highlight. But when the group urges the crowd to come forward, steps down from the stage to meet us in the middle, and plays a frankly wondrous unamplified rendition of Richard Thompson’s ‘Bat Out of Hell’-esque motorcyle death ballad ’1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ it simply cannot be bettered.
After receiving rapturous applause for their last song Left With Pictures make a hasty exit before The Epstein take the stage. Long regarded as one of the city’s most promising upcoming bands, the group has played in various configurations over the years but the Bullingdon is treated to a performance by an experimental “power trio” version consisting of one electric and one acoustic guitar plus keyboards. Although a single drum is on hand for the odd moment, the lack of bass makes this an unusually floaty and rhythmless performance. “Cinematic” is a seriously overused word in music circles – not least because the music we often associate with cinema is inoffensive and relegated to the background – but its application to The Epstein is not entirely without merit.
As immediate and passionate as a song like ‘I Held You Once’ is, The Epstein’s music frequently reflects their awareness that like life, songs don’t neccesarily have to have and end or a goal, per se. Instead, their warm and engaging brand of folk rock seems to capture moments in time, rather than whole stories. Theirs is a more modest aim than some, perhaps, but it is one they are quickly mastering and which should do nothing to harm expectations for their forthcoming releases and a second LP. The band are so well received tonight that – after joking that they had no backstage to go to – are convinced into giving us an encore.
Comprised of three talented bands who suited each other perfectly, this is a gig which seems to leave the audience feeling that there’s nowhere they would rather be tonight.