The formidable British jazz pianist Neil Cowley titled his second album Loud Louder Stop! In doing so he turned a disparaging review into a statement of chin-out pride, encapsulating the driving dynamism of the trio’s big bold sound. It’s tempting to suggest the judicious addition of the word ‘Quiet’, twice into that title, once at the front and then as the penultimate word, might neatly sum up Lau, although in this case nothing negative or derogatory is intended.
A sell-out at the Union Chapel in London is yet another sign that the band are still on the rise. Originally forming in 2004, they have subsequently won almost unopposed and unending praise and accolades, becoming a fixture of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards nominations and winners rostrum. With a clutch of very good records, the latest being Race The Loser, arguably they are still best experienced in the live arena, where their wild dynamics can be seen as well as heard. In many ways this old church offers a perfect setting, not too big but still having the sense of a grand arena with its high ceiling.
The support act is State Of The Union, the collaboration between Boo Hewerdine and American Brooks Williams. The pairing is certainly rich in promise, with Brooks bluesier sensibilities providing an interesting foil to Hewerdine’s natural gift with a tune. Williams is also quite a tasty guitarist and has a grittier voice, while Boo is somehow the physical embodiment of his very funny blog and inclined to deadpan and drollery at every opportunity.
They are very entertaining and play and sing superbly together. If it has something of the collaboration between Boo and Darden Smith, then there’s nothing much wrong with that, although that might sound like a downgrade of Williams role and none is intended. The duo are well matched and with one full album already to their credit, another is due soon. The taster we get tonight is very well received and rightly so, as the ease of the delivery belies some seriously fine song craft. Standouts are probably Georgia, written by Williams about his home state, with a lovely jazzy lilt and the easy bottleneck blues of the song about the marathon runner hitting the wall, but more on that here very soon. Tonight they leave the stage to generous applause.The interval gives us a first puff of dry ice fog and as Lau take the stage, the lighting is notable subdued. Almost uniquely the lighting actually warrants special mention. There is no wham-bam or laser extravaganza, just subtle changes of mood. The three band members, Aidan, Kris and Martin are naturally seated in a semicircle so perhaps that sets the tone. Besides you know the fireworks will come from the music and in that there is no disappointment.
The songs and tunes of Race The Loser rightly form the bulk of the set, which lifts off much as the album does with Saint Monday. Notably Martin has an electronic keyboard on stage with him and also seems to be controlling the other electronic sounds and embellishments that are more of a feature of the latest CD. But it’s still their three main instruments, accordion, fiddle and guitar that combine with such stunning power.Despite being seated and you think sometimes that Martin in particular is going to give in to his impulse and start bouncing around the stage, there is no lack of drama in the show. You can see the way that they watch each other as the tunes and songs take their shape. Each player is alive to every nuance of the others performance and they seem to push each other to higher highs. The virtuosity and dexterity is off the scale, but so is their invention and communion. The audience laps it up as they spur each other to take greater risks in the way normally reserved for great jazz players.
There are moments of great beauty too. Horizontigo, written about Martin’s native East Anglia is one such, the muted lighting and dry ice suggest the early morning fog rolling across the dykes and fens. As the tune climaxes Lau are bathed in a golden glow as if the sun has broken through. Torsa too, which Aidan informs us is written about a small island in Argyle, will have transported the audience to their own version of the haven that inspired the tune, even if they’ve never been anywhere near it.They receive a standing ovation and encore with a crowd pleasing Hinba. Then finally State Of The Union and a couple of the Keston Cobblers Club, who were playing in the bar during the interval, join them for a parting version of Goodnight Irene.
The Union Chapel is positively buzzing with excitement. You can sense how much this means to everyone. The trio so clearly enjoy each others’ company and the thrill of playing together. That chemistry in turn is carried through the performance and into the audience. It wouldn’t have been a total surprise if the incumbents of the chapel’s crypt had come out to join the fun, such is the power and vivacity of the music that Lau make. Perhaps they did, but keeping this in the mortal realm, what a band and what a night.
Review by: Simon Holland
Photo Credit: John Gray (copyright 2013)