01 July 2012
There is a danger in expecting too much from a live performance. I had been waiting to see Phantom Limb play live for most of the year. I missed a gig by a day back in February (or maybe early March) through not checking their website properly and I was not able to make a recent showing at the Gladstone due to a clash. This meant that their first London headlining show was my first sight of them. Rather than expecting too much, I actually was not expecting it to be quite as good.
Whoever was responsible for booking the support band, Harry Oakwood Millionaire, deserves special praise. Their Band/Felice Brothers swagger complimented the soulfulness of Phantom Limb perfectly and they got on stage a sensible time and their EP is pretty damn good as well.
Good as Harry Oakwood Millionaire were, the majority of the crowd had come to see the headliners. Phantom Limb is in a good place at the moment; with two studio albums under their belt (one recorded across the pond in California) and a summer of festivals (including the prestigious Cambridge Folk Festival) coming up it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that they may not be playing a venue of this size again.
As was to be expected the bulk of the material came from their current album ‘The Pines’ but ‘Run’ from their self titled debut and a couple of covers, Dave Rawlings’ ‘Ruby’ and Little Feat’s ‘Willin’’ also got an outing. I was especially hoping that they would do ‘Willin’’ after seeing the YouTube clip they put out of an acoustic take of the track recorded in an alley behind their rehearsal space. On telling a musician friend that they had covered the track he said “Who hasn’t?” Many may have, but I doubt if any have put quite as much into it as the Phantom Limb leader Yolanda Quartey.
Quartey is one of those singers who are able to push their voices to the absolute limit and hold it there without crashing and burning; but her real skill is not to do it on every track. She first shows it on ‘Gimme A Reason’ that goes as close as is possible to not breaking into a scream. The gig was almost unbearably hot and Quartey gratefully borrowed a fan from a fan to try to keep cool before launching into ‘Missy’.
They saved their best track for last (or possibly their best live track for last). Stew Jackson had swapped his acoustic guitar for an electric on the previous track ‘Prisoner’ from the Save Our Studio benefit album (to raise funds to stop the closure of Compound Studios, where ‘The Pines’ was recorded) and he kept hold of it for ‘Hotter Than Stone’. They said that there were “about eight thousand” versions of the song, this one was a southern rock jam with the two guitars getting so loud that even a voice as powerful as Quartey’s could not be heard.
There was no encore but no one was disappointed; the band had put everything into the last song and they had, to borrow from sports speak, left nothing on the stage. They’re gonna go down a storm at the festivals this summer.