Playing to an intimate crowd of around 100 friends, family and loyal fans, who it seems front man Matthew Hegarty holds just as closely, so gracious were his thanks, Matthew & the Atlas played Paradise in Kensal Green.
The gig was announced just a couple of weeks ago on the band’s Myspace and was, firstly, to be a thank you of sorts to the fans who have helped them reach this chapter in their musical voyage, and secondly to showcase Neil Coxhill’s video for “Within the Rose” from the To the North EP. All of the ticket profits are to go towards the video so the band kindly bestowed the title of “Executive Producers” to those present.
Opening the show was Matthew & the Atlas pianist and vocalist Lindsay West, who played a generous set of half a dozen songs, emotionally and referentially dense: drawing on inspiration from art, nature and human relations. Projected with timeless, warming vocals that marry intricately constructed lyrics of minute worldly observations not a world away from Regina Spektor’s curious charm. “Francesca” outlined the photography of Francesca Woodman, while closing song “Birds”, about an art teacher’s love for the creatures had all the lovable qualities of a childlike poem whilst also proving itself to be a witty character study penned by a talented lyricist and backed by urgent piano prodding and insistent vocals.
Headliners Matthew & the Atlas, a name most of those familiar with London’s nu-folk scene will have heard often in recent months, were instantly captivating to both old fans and new ears. Beginning the evening showcasing the video for “Within the Rose” the London-based five-piece proceeded to perform an hour long set, which seamlessly traversed bluegrass, folk and Americana.
Matthew Hegarty’s vocals, so similar to the torturous gravely timbre of Ray Lamontage was a surprise in itself and added a depth and familiarity to these songs so soaked in nostalgia and memories, scenes and scents from long ago: “My grandfather he did ask me, do you know what you have done? There were ripples in the water, I found them when you were young.”
With accordion and banjo accompaniment it will be difficult for this band to avoid the predictable comparisons to Mumford and Sons on which the likenesses are only drawn from the London and the folk elements of the two. Matthew and the Atlas appear to have a few more years behind them, listening to their recordings and watching their live performance it is hard to believe they have only produced two EPs (To the North and Scavengers): their sound is so organic it is as though they have been recording together forever.
In a new song, played for only the second time, they were raucous and energetic, but just easily can they rein in these veerings with stripped down ballads like “In Winter”, in which Thomas Field’s thunderous drumming shakes the five-piece into an atmospheric chorus. Finishing with the toe tapping “I Will Remain”, there was a recognition of a great talent and the witnessing of something very special as the claps that echoed back and forth from the band to the audience and vice versa were of a mutual respect for a collective of accomplished musicians headed for great things, and the dedicated listeners who have helped them get this far.
Within the Rose: