Sunday, 15 February 2015

937 WHITE LILAC, Familiars, Coco Esq, Swindon The Victoria, Friday 13th February 2015

Kicking off a week’s half term leave with the kids by launching into 3 gigs in 4 days, so I’m glad I’m starting locally; got to pace myself at my age! This one is an intriguing prospect for starters; Faye Rogers, daughter of old BT colleague Stella, and a talented vocalist I’d enjoyed on a smattering of solo performances last year, has assembled a band and performed a “musical reinvention”, according to esteemed local musical scribe and oracle Dave Franklin. My curiosity thus piqued, I booked a ticket for this one and ventured up the hill after Rach returned from swimming, for my first local gig of 2015!

Hit the venue for some entertaining muso chat with Mr. Franklin and “Songs Of Praise” partner in crime Ed Dyer, tonight’s promoters, before openers Coco Esq. A young black-clad lot, they employed some naggingly familiar resonant guitar licks which preceded some youthfully enthusiastically played dark and brooding post-punk and pseudo-Goth with some good droney choral hooks, and shimmering Editors-esque guitar licks. Occasionally veering too excessively towards over-shoutiness and a little unrehearsed, maybe, but they were clearly having a ball up there and projecting their enthusiasm to their audience. Plus, they were totally right in my sonic wheelhouse so I saw a fair amount of promise amidst the embryonic layered guitar noise. Keep cleaning that sound up, boys, and you’ll be one to watch…

Better yet was to follow, in main support Familiars. Despite technical keyboard-based issues forcing the restart of the opening number (vocalist/ pianist Steve Skinley – who with more than a dusting of grey up top was clearly of a closer vintage to myself than the first act! – remarking dryly, “you’ll know this one,” when it finally got going), they were superb from the outset. Operating in similar sonic dark post-punk territory to the openers, they had a mellower, bleaker take on said rockist sound, a considerably higher level of musicianship, and a level of insouciant, detached NYC cool (despite hailing from Cirencester!), overall recalling a first album era Interpol, or “Neon Bible” Arcade Fire in mood, with Steve’s slow, mournful bedsit vocals resembling The National’s Matt Berninger, or The Wild Swans’ Paul Simpson. Delicious stuff indeed. The penultimate number “Ballyhoo” for me appropriated the circular piano riff from Nada Surf’s dark, atmospheric “Killian’s Red” but I’ll compliment them on their taste rather than throw around accusations of plagiarism, because this was a bloody fine set, culminating in their soaring, uplifting best number “Bottleneck”. Complimented a humbled Steve afterwards – apparently a vaudeville performer in his spare time. A man of many talents, indeed!

After that, White Lilac faced a challenge, underlined by Ed Dyer’s introduction to the by-now packed Vic for their appearance; “hometown crowd, guys – don’t fuck it up!” No chance of that happening, as White Lilac shone from the outset. An opening number, “Furs”, rocked startlingly in a shimmering post-Shoegaze vein, similar to Lush, then “He’s Not Himself”, one of the highlights of Faye’s solo shows, was given added gravitas by the band embellishment, initially delicate and haunting, then building to a menacing, discordant crescendo. “September” was a cello-led challenging clash of styles, recalling Throwing Muses in intent if not style, and an unexpected cover of “Bigmouth Strikes Again” (“we’re big Morrissey fans and we’ve got tickets to see him next month”, gushed Faye) was equally as off-kilter, the song turning into a rampant sinister rollercoaster ride. All too soon the set neared its’ conclusion, the jewel in the crown of this nascent set being closer “Night Visions”, underlying Faye’s new sonic template by starting off all shimmering and slow-burn, evolving into a mournful sax-led elegiac mid-section, then turning completely on its’ head with a sudden slap of slashing guitar leading to the song’s powerful crescendo. Great stuff, and well received by the packed and supportive audience.

A few words with the Star Of The Show afterwards before heading off. Faye has clearly had a “lightbulb moment” and found her direction, which to these ears is not so much a reinvention, but more a refinement, the band dynamics adding an extra dimension to her material. I’ll be an interesting journey to watch her obvious talent develop from here on in, and one I’m determined to watch closely!

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