Horizon to horizon, a grey blanket of cloud is threatening to lower itself into the streets of Islington and induce the London smogs of the mid–50s. Inside The Islington, a faded but contemporary decor is doing its best to shut the damp air and dank illusions out, and in the back, five men from New Orleans are running through a soundcheck, sounding like they’re huddled around each other on a back porch looking out on a Louisiana sunset. Try as they might, I suspect they feel (in their bones) a long way from home right now.
A hop, skip and jump from the biggest financial centre in the world, Angel is hip, slick and just too cool to be concerned with yet another American band alighting on its doorstep, but in this regard, the R’n’B girlz and pasty-faced teenagers desperate to emulate their (very) distant cousins in the Bronx have got it wrong. If they were better informed, they’d know The Deslondes are the real deal, and not just ’cos they have a song of that name. A cooperative of multi-instrumentalists, all five write and four of them share lead. They have a tail of former bands and projects longer and brighter than most comets and a refreshing attitude towards blending the varied genres of American roots together in such a way as to render boundaries useless.
As the crowd gathers in the room – come the set it will be full and then some – Ryley Downing, Sam Doores and John James Tourville spare me five minutes to set the scene. John James confirms it’s their first time in the UK as The Deslondes, but there’s ‘..been a buzz about the band back home since the album was released, and that was backed up by a really good West Coast tour.’ They agree it remains to be seen if that’s replicated in Europe, but as Sam says,‘We were surprised by the turnout on that tour, and on the East Coast too’ so the word momentum can be bandied about without fear of cursing the band.
Asking what I can expect to hear later, Ryley is quick to point out that they often wander from any sense of structured set, regularly playing covers or songs friends have written in other bands. Sam agrees; ‘You’ll hear things that aren’t on the album tonight. It keeps it fresh for us and exciting for the audience.’
They drove overnight from Holland twenty-four hours ago but show no sign of being tired. Sam says that being on stage is all the get up and go they need, and that after Europe ‘..we go out in October at home with Devil Makes Three and again in November with Pokey LaFarge.’ It’s not unusual to be busy on the road for bands these days, but all three seem laid back about the months ahead, and that sense of relaxed confidence transfers to the stage half-an-hour later.
By the time they begin, the weather has miraculously turned and Islington’s streets are dry again. This is a good thing for those in the audience who can’t squeeze into the venue; it’s the gig equivalent of fifteen people in a telephone booth. The remainder spill out into the bar area or stand on the path outside where the sounds remains remarkably good.
The pace throughout is lovely. Nothing is hurried. The music rises and falls from the sweat-soaked Delta to fresh Appalachian air stopping at all stations in-between. It’s never disjointed, never at odds with the song before or after. Even the uptempo songs share a loose insouciance, the relaxed swagger of men at peace with themselves. Everything is alright with their world, which, it transpires, is how the sold out, crammed-in-like-tuna crowd feel when they’re listening to The Deslondes; it may be hotter than a peppered sprout in The Islington, but that don’t bother the band none.
They start with I Got Found. The sound is good from the start, highlighting the diverse instrumentation and the occasional harmony. Reuben’s Train and Who Really Loses serve as equally good looseners, but it’s fourth song Less Honkin’ More Tonkin’ that begins to raise a sweat, it’s amusing premise anchored by a gritty rhythm that twists like the slow waltz of an alligator as it rolls its kill. Louise is an effective ballad and Yum Yum raises smiles all round. There’s plenty of lead-swapping going on, so much so that from the back of the room the crowd look like they’re watching a tennis match.
Low Down Soul is a highlight, its dreamy, loping blues rhythm and simple lyric easily accessible, judicious use of the pedal steel carrying us off to steamy streets and bowls of gumbo. In direct contrast, The Real Deal is a strutting, Buddy Holly-Country hybrid that motors on a delicious guitar riff and solid upright bass, a fantastic song that showcases The Deslondes ability to switch gears and styles at the drop of a tambourine.
True to their word, they surprise the crowd two songs later with a swampy cover of Berry’s Never Can Tell, the ‘C’est la vie’ ones being sung with gusto by the room. White Freight Liner and Depression Blues emulate their names in sound, and Same Blood As Mine (flavours of Please Please Me-era Beatles in the rhythm and vocals) completes the standard set. Throughout, the band and the crowd have sparked off each other and the holler for an encore is rewarded with Woody Guthrie’s This Morning I Was Born Again and J J Cale’s Drifter’s Life.
As a first taste of the UK, this was all The Deslondes could have hoped for. Performances like this will ensure their speedy return to these shores, rain or shine.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
All photos by Di Holmes
KEXP Live Session
The Deslondes self-titled debut album is out now on New West
Order it via Amazon