Live at Call Lane Social on Thursday, 21st April 2011
The Crow Knows Music is a developing local independent music company whose progress I've been charting of late. I reviewed the other monthly Crow Knows Music night at The Verve (you can read the review here) and was most impressed. Does this new night live up to a similarly high standard? Read on to find out!
First on was event organiser and man behind the Crow Knows Music, Daniel Clark, accompanied by session guitarist Ryan Barry. I've seen this duo perform before at the other Crow Knows Music night at Verve, and was expecting a similar performance. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find this set was almost completely different to the last. The first song, 'Broken Stones', one of Clark's best, suffered from an unbalanced mix. Call Lane Social is a new venue and seems to still be acclimatising to the demands of live performance. However, by the third song the levels were satisfactory. The second number was the delightful crowd pleaser, Randy Newman's 'You've got a friend in me', you know, from Toy Story! Like any serious musician, I hold a deep admiration and respect for Mr. Newman. However, I felt Mr. Clark's rendition surpassed it, even if it was bookended by guitar solos from Clark which he himself deemed 'artistic suicide'. Actually, I enjoyed these courageous solos, as did the rest of the audience I think.
Clark and Barry then flitted through the idyllic '19 degrees', about "one of those days where the big black clouds fade away"; then mulled over a slow-tempo, stripped-back arrangement of MGMT's 'Kids' and amused the crowd with the good-humoured 'More to Love', in which Clark declares, "I don't mind / She's a little on the heavy side". Next came what seemed to me to be the centrepiece of the set, the beautiful 'Quietly in Love', which was dedicated to a girl in the crowd called Georgia, who happened to have a boyfriend, who was present. Yeah, it was kind of awkward. I think everyone is laughing about it now though! The song itself was beautiful, particularly the memorable chorus in which pianissimo descending bass notes were played underneath a sweet melody. The stark lyrics "I'll just sit here quietly in love with you" were sung with a touching tenderness. The duo then finished with their customary set concluder 'Pride and Joy' by Stevie Ray Vaughn. I don't feel it is any exaggeration to say this was a truly 'stonking' finish.
The second act was the charming duo Rob & Amy. By now they might be called Blood Buzz - I don't know. They're new. So new that they don't even have a MySpace or Facebook or Reverb Nation or YouTube or Spotify. This was their first gig and it showed. The first few songs were riddled with mistakes. However, all these 'goofs' were laughed off and actually built towards a more fun and informal atmosphere. Rob mostly played your typical open chords, so there wasn't anything to shout about in that arena, but Amy's voice was impressive in its power, richness and expressive vibrato. When Rob joined in on vocal duties it filled out the relatively bare sound the duo had and on the rare occasion that they sang in harmony rather than unison, it was magical!
The set was comprised of quite a few covers, including that one that I remember from a few years ago but never learned the name of or artist who wrote and performed it. They also played that one that Snow Patrol and Martha Wainwright collaborated on, which is a song I didn't think I liked until Rob & Amy 'persuaded' me with their skilful and impassioned rendition. The stand out song amongst the material they penned themselves was the final number, 'Blood Buzz Ohio', which may become the basis for their new band name (which I mentioned earlier!). This song featured a fast tempo and urgent rhythm which lent it a sense of immediacy and energy that was missing in the other more relaxed numbers. I have never experienced the phenomenon of buzzed blood personally, but I think Rob & Amy captured what such an experience might be like with this song. Although their set was flawed, the duo showed significant potential and, now that I think about it, made far fewer mistakes than my last band did on our first gig. And I did alright after that. Just look at me today - sat in my room in my pyjamas at 3.30pm on a Monday, cup of tea (earl grey) in hand, writing down how I feel about bands for no money! So if that doesn't encourage Rob & Amy I don't know what will. I wish them the best of luck.
Third act on was In Between Echoes, who I have also seen before, although they were then called Sunny Philadelphia. I have to ask why they changed their name. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a great TV show and, personally, I would consider being named after it a privilege. Oh well, there's probably a good reason for it that didn't occur to me. In Between Echoes is a good name too. Singer James Debroy and Guitarist Rob Orange played courageously without their rhythm section who couldn't make it for some reason. For funk-driven songs such as theirs I would have thought the rhythm section essential, but I have to hand it Rob Orange. He created a firm groove with his percussive and rhythmically-precise guitar playing that needed no assistance from bass and drums. I think the use of electric guitar (as opposed to the acoustic guitar used last time I saw them) helped to emphasise the rhythmic aspects of the music, with its bright, direct and driven sound. I have to say, I didn't miss the rhythm section all that much, and in a way I preferred it as the reduced numbers helped to create a feeling of intimacy. However, I still feel the natural habitat for this kind of music is a louder, full band setting.
Although the song writing and playing style of the group has changed little since last time I saw them, I felt the two had improved significantly. The general feel of the performance was more together, more confident and more committed. It is so important to be committed. I remember once I was talking to Thom Yorke himself on a chance meeting in Oxford when he was jogging around a lake. I was trying to get musical tips from him and he said to me, "You need to be committed." That was an eye-opening moment for me. The highlight of the set was undoubtedly the song 'Bring it Down', which has a really cool, nay, beautiful tension and release in the section in which Debroy sings the line "Bring it down" repeatedly over two chords a semitone apart which build intensity until the music literally is brought down into a new section and the tension is resolved. It is some fine musical writing - so fine I'm surprised I didn't write it. I look forward to seeing how In Between Echoes progress. They are also a very new, exciting group and have plenty of potential.
The final act, or headliners if you will, was British Racing Green, the only full band of the night. They made their presence felt with their loud energetic rock songs. It really was too loud for this feeble old reviewer, but then again I customarily keep the volume on my stereo on about 5 out of 30. I think most people would find the volume quite bearable. The energy on the other hand was definitely something I (and I think everyone else in the audience) admired. Streams of rapid 16th notes on the drums, driving bass and overdriven guitars made for an enjoyable straight ahead rock set. However, because of the aforementioned loudness and overdriven guitars I couldn't make out the lyrics, vocal melodies or either guitar part all that well. This was a shame as I could make out the signs of good singing and could make out vague ideas of what the two guitar parts were but could not delight in the detail of these parts. I'm sure I would have done had the mix been better!
The general mood of the music as a whole was one of angst, anxiety and unease, which British Racing Green seem to be good at conveying, although admittedly my favourite songs in the set were the "happy" one (they didn't share the song titles with the audience all that much) and another slow tempo song with a 12/8 triplet feel. But maybe it was the fact that they were surrounded by angst-ridden numbers that made them stand out?! As the set progressed the sound became clearer and I could make out the lead guitar parts and found they were well-written; they made use of space and effective musical tools such as playing a melody on the B string whilst playing a drone on the open E string, which is a trick I believe was made popular recently by Matthew Followill of Kings Of Leon fame, and he seems to have done OK out of it. However, the rhythm guitar was completely lost in the mix. I enjoyed a certain song that appeared later in the set that was driven by a delayed guitar riff playing a sequence of harmonic 6ths and 7ths, which had a nice feeling of tension and relief to it. However when the rest of the band came in after this intro riff, I was once again frustrated by the difficulty I had in making out the various parts. Despite the noisiness, I enjoyed the visceral feel of this music and the abundance of energy in British Racing Green's performance.
As for the venue, Call Lane Social is very new. It is where Music Ground used to be. I didn't even know that it had closed down. Or maybe it's just moved? I don't know. The live room upstairs is good for medium sized gigs, with an idyllic d?r, pleasant atmosphere and, to my delight, ample seating. This is an incredibly useful tool for a reviewer. Without seating we are forced to scribble our notes whilst standing up and it becomes a hassle and we tend to hurl our Pukka pads (A5) to the floor and storm out. I do anyway. I assume this is common?
Obviously, as a new venue, there are a few kinks to work out for live performances. I believe there were minor problems with the stage lights as well as the more nagging problem of the imperfect mixes. The sound technicians are still getting used to the room I assume. I feel once these minor issues are ironed out it could become one of the great fashionable live music venues in Leeds. Downstairs there was some kind of popular DJ music going on as I was running past people and knocking them over to catch the last bus, so the proprietor(s) seem to be intentionally aiming towards establishing it as a music-based venue.
In Between Echoes are a 4 piece rock band, gigging and busking in and around Leeds city centre.