Last harbour + New Zealand Story + The Low Countries + Jess Thomas

Jess Thomas seems nervous at first, concentrating a little too hard on her guitar.  There were quite a few present who’d never heard Jess sing, myself included, and as she relaxed and opened up I was amazed.  The breathy Janis Ian-like songs with their delicate melancholy guitar filigree grew muscles as Jess’ began to belt her climaxes out.

The folky harmonies of The Low Countries also caught me out.  Gentle Americana decorated by Wes’ banjo evolved into bubblegum folk-pop.  ‘If Only’ with its ukulele melody had an innocent charm whilst the closing song’s ‘dreamlike touches of penny whistle were a nice touch.

Last time I saw (and reviewed) New Zealand Story I was lukewarm but said I’d see them again.  This time a far better sound mix revealed a much better band.  Piano-led they combine the flamboyance of early Billy Joel/Neil Diamond with the dark lyrical satire of Warren Zevon.  David sings ‘It’s hard to get romantic in a modern coffee shop’ and then later covers Tom Waits’ (a stomp through ‘Way Down in The Hole’) suggesting he’d be with the nighthawks at the diner whilst also looking for that quirk of melodic light that creates the archetypal heavenly pop hit.  There is romance here, nostalgic, burned, optimistic against the odds, all delivered with panache and passion.

last harbour by Dan Haywood, thanks to Richard Robot

last harbour by Dan Haywood, thanks to Richard Robot

I can’t imagine listening to last harbour in the sunlight.  Theirs is a late night sound, brooding and violent.  When guitarist David Armes first told me of his band’s name I wondered if American Music Club were an inspiration, but it seemed not, the name was singer Kev Craig’s idea.  Listening to him sing I am reminded of Mark Eitzel though.  That edge of control, edge of the abyss singing style sometimes only seems pulled back by the female vocals alongside and David’s tighter spiralling guitar.  Waves of feedback and fiddle fill out new single ‘Saint Luminous Bride’ to its coruscating climax.  The duet proper of ‘Nobody Ever said’ adds light, its tracery of shadows coming from the contrasting voices.  Perhaps because it was the last night of the tour, Last Harbour played with remarkable fire tonight.  Such a shame so few people saw one of Britain’s better bands, but those who did demanded more.

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6 Responses

  1. That’s more like it. There’s a tenner in the post.

  2. Thanks Kev. Good review, and pretty accurate. Jess was a revelation to many, me included, and I’m putting her again in October.

    As you say, shame about the lack of audience for this one, somewhat disheartening, but I’ll try and keep my pecker up and work hard for the next one!

  3. Well I enjoyed it, even though my feet were killing me (flip-flops with heels + hills +heat = won’t make that mistake again) so ta very much Robot Richard!

    I was a bit disappointed not to hear the BT song though.

  4. I too was a bit surprised by the turnout, a lot of you missed out on this one – great gig!! I guess i’m one of those who Richard was talking about,i was completely bowled over by Jess Thomas – what a voice, another one to watch for the future.

  5. Yeah, Jess is good, last year at the Greggy open mic she and Jo Gillot really made it for me, makes it all worth while. Jess does get nervous, but a couple in and shes lost in the music, there’s more songs in there that need an airing, get hold of her CD.
    Well done the rest too
    NZS are a different proposition here with a good sound, Daves lyrics are great, and indeed the sound is a contemporary take on some retro themes, and all the better for it. They are working hard getting a good mix of musicians
    The Low Countries, we didn’t play our best tonight, but hey, we enjoy ourselves, love it.
    Last Harbour…kev, ditto, simple.

  6. Been a bit hard on yourself there Wes, that was the first time i’d seen The Low Countries & i thought you did a good set.
    Reminded me in parts of The Violent Femmes – not a bad thing!!

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