Sisters Jessica, Emily and Camilla Stavely-Taylor, collectively known as The Staves, have for the past five years been winning the hearts of many worldwide with their goosebump-inducing vocals and solid songwriting. They have been praised by many, and a particularly fond admirer is Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. In a recent video documenting the development of the trio’s new album If I Was, Vernon describes their effect on him: 'when I heard The Staves singing, it's literally physiological; their sisterhood, their relation. The combination of their voices is unlike anything I’ve ever heard'. Indeed, last year the trio left the streets of Watford and headed for the bitter-cold countryside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to record their second LP in Vernon's studio April Base, and tonight the sisters begin their tour of said new album at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms.
The Staves, as they mention tonight, aren’t strangers to Nottingham, and have played a variety of venues across the city. While it’s a shame they don’t play us their usual novel ditty "Robin Hood and Little John" from the Disney film, with their American deep south harmonies and yodels, it is perhaps less fitting for a their biggest Nottingham show yet, as they return to a full-capacity crowd at Rescue Rooms.
Naturally, their set consists mainly of songs from If I Saw, opening on the magnificent "Blood I Bled", which in classic Staves style relies on the balance between haunting silences and louder crescendos with percussion and their astonishing interplay of vocals. Whilst the quieter moments are locked with the emotional power married to them, it sometimes feels as though the louder moments, such as in "Black and White", could do with a bit more kick to really widen that sonic gap.
Other new tracks such as "Let Me Down" prove that the sisters ingenuity lies not in their harmonies - although admittedly they add profusely to their songs with a glistening finish - but in their melodies. Hooks like "Says what he wants when he wants what he can’t understand" cascade and tickle the soul with a cathartic force, and importantly without becoming too saccharine. Indeed, as sweet as their music may be, these are foul-mouthed gals, making their anecdotes hilarious and as a result they come across extremely down to earth and positively charming. They seem to be enjoying playing to us, especially towards the end of the set with songs like "Teeth White", also from the second record, which has a growlier tone and a fuller band sound.
It's a testament to the girls that the dominance of their new, unheard material goes down so well, but peppered throughout the set are classics from their debut, Dead & Born & Grown. "Eagle Song" reminds us how talented these sisters are at songwriters, and "Winter Trees" closes the set perfectly with its eerie motif and closing cadence.
Blood I Bled
No me, no you, no more
Let Me Down
Black and White
Don't You Call Me Anymore
Damn It All
Make It Holy
Wisely & Slow
Tongue Behind My Teeth