There’s a lot of love in the room, that much is apparent even though I’m late. A bit of a cock-up on the London transport front a failure to check the details of the gig mean that I have missed Paul Armfield and I arrive just in time to see him heading towards the back of the room to set up his merchandise. As I walk in the warm applause is still ringing, however, so it’s clear he’s gone down well. That’s confirmed both by a number of sales and enquiries, an autograph or two even and a couple of friends for good measure. Paul is feeling good about the set too and hungry for more, but having seen and reviewed his gig at The Slaughtered Lamb I don’t feel too bad about missing this one, as clearly if he has his way he’ll be back soon.
Part of the reason for the miss on my part is the three act bill that somehow had eluded me. Patch & The Giant are the meat in the Sandwich and very good too. Again the crowd seems to take to them without question. Lead singer Luke Owen, even comments about how well behaved and respectful everyone is being. He confesses that they are playing in a slightly stripped down format and reveals that their gigs usually prompt a degree of mayhem. His tongue is firmly in his cheek, however, when he thanks us for not causing a riot, fighting, etc. (watch the video for Daniel to see what he is referring to). They may have readied themselves for a more rambunctious response, but they also seem delighted with the attentive crowd, who seem thoroughly absorbed in their heady alt-folk.
Still more from both in their time, as the headline act and the reason for the majority of the crowd being at the Lexington on an ‘engineering works’ afflicted Sunday night is the pleasingly named Elephant Revival. The word seems to be well and truly out on this quintet from Nederland Colorado and whatever has set the grapevine twitching has pulled a good crowd. When I get to talk to the band at the end of the evening it seems to have been the same at all of their UK shows and they’ve been more than happy with the trip and the response that they’ve received. From Celtic Connections onwards the vibes have been extremely positive.
But that’s jumping ahead and the set opens with a track I’m unfamiliar with, as in truth it’s only the latest CD that has crossed my threshold, but it matters not a jot as, rather like those around me, suddenly I’m transfixed. There’s just something about the way they sound that isn’t quite like anything else.
The most obviously unusual thing to hit first is Bonnie Paine’s washboard, but there’s also her tremor of a voice. There’s also a little magic that happens between the guitar, banjo and fiddle as they spiral around each other harmonically and melodically, their fanciful flights tethered to the big, woody double bass and it’s richly rounded lower registers. Then there’s the fact that all five of them sing, with three main leads, but all of them adding to the mix of vocal harmonies.
Then there’s the multi-instrumental skills, with Sage Cook just trumping Daniel Rodriguez in that regard, with a fiddle duet with Bridget Law. Even bassist Dango Rose gets a swap around and fronts a song with his mandolin and vocals. Individually they are all great players, but together they make very special music indeed.
Like many bands, they are pretty bad at telling you what they are playing but they play some of their newer songs like the beautiful Birds And Stars, the new featured ‘single’ Remembering, the driving passions of Down To The Sea and the rootsy, percussive Rogue River all sound brilliant. As the set develops the familiarity of the songs or otherwise evaporates into a kind of existentialist swoon. It’s like I’m hearing, or at least really ‘getting’ the band for the first time.
They seem to be genuinely thrilled, as were the other acts tonight, with the response, not quite believing that the audience is prepared to listen with barely a murmur. There are some touching moments too, with Grace Of A Woman being dedicated to a birthday girl, who just so happens to be called Grace. There also another stunning duet towards the close of the set with a guest from the audience, whose name I missed, exchanging some wonderful wistful lines that explode into fiery crescendos with Bridget.
A curfew of sorts brings things to a close the respectable side of 10.30, but I get to meet and chat to all five of them, thanks to a very enthusiastic manager who’s keen that everyone says hello. They are genuinely pleased with how the trip to the UK has worked out and for a first show in London, The Lexington’s crowd has been the icing on the cake. With dates across the Atlantic imminent, there are still a few last minute ambitions circling, but there is already talk of a desire to get back to the UK as soon as things allow and even some thoughts about more recording, but all things in their time. Just don’t miss’em when they do come back.
For now we have These Changing Skies, it’s a title that has a new relevance after witnessing tonight’s performance. There is something about the abilities inherent in this quintet, their individual and collective skills that is able to change the focus and feel of the music in a beat. It’s done seamlessly, with such ease that you can’t help but be swept along. Lyrically there’s a real depth too, but that would take up another whole review. So for now with the CD on, it’s sit back time, eyes closed and the clouds of my mind slowly clearing.
Review by: Simon Holland