Live Reviews Autumn 2010
09 November 2010
Yes, she is the elfin beuty with the delicate breathless voice and he is the gruff voiced singer of Queens of the Stone Age, but really - 3 albums and an EP in surely we all know this and can stop being surprised by it ? This gig at The Barbican formed part of the promotion of their new album, Hawk.
The evening got off to a good start with the pre-concert warm up on the Barbican's foyer freestage. The Minnikins are a multi instrumental Canadian duo - brother and sister Gabe' and Ruth Minnikin - they share vocal duties and between them play acoustic guitar (6 and 12 string), 5 String banjo, mandolin, and accordion. They had additional pedal steel accompaniment supplied by Chris Hillman (but not that Chris Hillman). They produced a solid country tinged folk set featuring a mix of old songs - such as "I Will Forget" (from their previous incarnation as part of The Guthries) and new material including the closer about their great grandparents emigrating from Skye to Canada which comes from Ruth's work in progrees of linked family history derived songs "The Minnikin family album". The set was well received by the - somewhat smaller than usual - freestage audience, unfortunately though although they'd remembered all their instruments they'd forgotten to bring their merchandise.
Willy Mason was the opener in the main hall, a lone figure centre stage with just his guitar for accompaniment. His half hour set drew heavily on his latest EP - So long baby shoes. On songs like "Restless Fugitive" he's a little reminiscent of a Nebraska era Springstien. A confident and relaxed presence he amply proved to be a fine song smith as well.
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan followed their band onto the stage and almost immediately launched into "We die and see beauty reign", at once demonstrating that this was a band on top of their music. In a breathless sequence they proceeded through the first half dozen or so songs with hardly a break of step. There was no sense of the songs being hurried, more a sense of wanting to present as much material as possible. Impressive, but it was a bit like being present at a final rehearsal. Neither Campbell or Lanegan addressed the audience, and were also well separated on the stage with Campbell also periodically disapearing behind her cello, or looking for shakers. Hence any communication between them amounted to the occasional exchange of glances. There were, however, the requisite moments of astonishing excellence - "Who built the road" was just perfect.
Willy Mason exchanged places with Lanegan for "No place to fall " and "Cool water", reprising his vocal contribution to Hawk and the pairing of Mason and Campbell seemed far more relaxed. Perhaps too relaxed, as Mason had to rush off stage to retrieve his guitar for "Cool Water" leaving some space for Campbell to fill by noticing the audience and to disappointedly express her surprise at the number of empty seats in the centre of the stalls "I thought it was sold out...". She went on to muse on the likely cause - before settling on her "lazy record company" not using their allocated tickets. This became a little bizarre as various cries of "we're here" and "your publisher's present" rang out around the room to punctuate Campbell's listing of the pro's and con's of setting up her own label (she concluded though that it would collapse under her own chaos).
With Lanegan back on stage the pair fell back into their earlier dynamic. Highlights of this second half of the set were the spooky vibe of "Back Burner" (although the band fiddling around to fit in every piece of percussion that features on the record was slightly distracting) and the poppy song with darker lyrics that is "Time of the season". The out and out rocker of Ramblin' Man in the encore saw the band throw off their studied lethargy and really come alive.
Undeniably it was an excellent gig musically, and with closed eyes the interplay of Campbell's and Lanegan's voices was superb. With eyes open there was a definite lack of spark - the principals being separated by ten feet and Lanegan sheltered behind his music stand didn't help at all. The band, more than competent, were unbelievably laid back. In the end, although not disappointing, it was not the triumph it should perhaps have been.
We die and see beauty reign
You won't let me down again
Who built the road
Ballad of the broken seas
(Do you wanna) come walk with me ?
The circus is leaving town
No place to fall
Time of the season
Honey child what can I do ?
Something to believe