All photos by Sébastien Dehesdin
The queue for on-the-door tickets at London’s Luminaire speaks volumes: it starts forming an hour before doors opens and continues around the block. It’s comprised of gig-goers hoping to able to mourn the passing of one of London’s most beloved live venues on the last-ever Friday night show the venue will hold.
In the end, only seven lucky punters are let into the sold-out farewell bash, and they are treated to a fitting sendoff to a venue that – with its slightly unfashionable location, cosy interior and design, reliably good soundsystem and a booking policy dedicated to left-of-centre, innovative and exciting music – has been a fixture for music fans and musicians for many years.
The honour of opening the last Friday night gig at The Luminaire falls to Lulu and The Lampshades. Having been lampooned as a cupcake-making, fixie-bike-riding quirk-folk collective in the past, tonight’s set is actually a fairly dark and experimental affair. Yes, there is a glockenspiel and a ukulele, but the jazz-influenced rhythmic changes and subtle flute melodies in ‘Moccasin Mile’ come across as sombre and mournful, rather than wannabe-mysterious.
Frontwoman Luisa and multi-instrumentalist Heloise have perfected their harmonies to an extent where it sounds as if one of them is singing through a harmoniser, but that doesn’t mean that they sound artificial: quite the opposite. They sound like a two-girl-choir with lumps in their throats – gorgeous but troubled. Anyone who’s seen their plastic-cup-powered YouTube hit knows that they’re accomplished musical multitaskers, and there is a pleasant clatter of percussion during ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone’, (which, with its instant chorus, is reminiscent of their Moshi Moshi label mates Slow Club), but it’s the tropical title track of their EP, ‘Cold Water’, which is the highlight of their set – here, girl-group harmonies, a wistful hook, and a danceable beat come together into a thoroughly unpretentious, well-crafted (pop) song.
During a little break in between songs, The Luminaire spirit is briefly evoked when a chatter arises in the audience, and all Luisa has to say to re-capture people’s attention is to say: “They’re closing the Luminaire – whhyyyy?”
The Mariner’s Children frontman Benedict Rubinstein pays tribute to the venue as well, telling us how it used to be his local venue when he lived around the corner, and that he’ll miss the signs on the wall “telling people to shut up!” (they also launched their New Moore Island EP here last year). Tonight, these reminders are superflous, as evidenced by the respectful silence greeting the sad, delicately plucked opener ‘Back I Beat the Waves’.
Similarly to Lulu and The Lampshades, the seven-piece are heavy on the vocal harmonies, but their sound is has a more classic width to it, provided by its string section. Mumford & Sons might have become a soft target, with their waistcoats and banjos and rousing choruses, but when Rubinstein swaps his acoustic for a banjo, what follows isn’t a radio-friendly hoedown but ‘Cast That Stone’, an eerie, urgent piece of nightmare folk that, despite the threatening drum rolls, never fully breaks into a comforting rhythm and is all the more threatening for it.
‘Coal’ showcases the band’s softer side. It has elements of The Decemberists (the slightly grandiose melody and the accordion), and Rubinstein’s yearning vocals are supplemented by some rousing backing vocals. The driving beat and the abrasive guitar strums of ‘It Carved Your Name Into the Ground’ have people bobbing along nicely, and before too long it’s time, for many of us, to walk down the stairs, out of the venue and onto Kilburn High Street for the last time. But some of the nostalgia is offset by the excitement at what tonight’s bands get up to next.