Live at Royal Park Cellars on Friday, 26th April 2002
I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that as much as anything else when it comes to gigs, the 'flow' of an evening's entertainment is as important as the quality of the music in catching and holding people's attention. It certainly makes sense to have a low-key act on first, to then build up to a rousing finale from the crowd-pulling headliners. But something obviously went awry at the Royal Park tonight.
Admittedly, when opening act Mabel Blue started her set, she was playing for a very small handful of people obviously aware of her folky charm, soaring Joni Mitchell-meets-Eva Cassidy voice and tuneful acoustic ditties - songs to warm the heart and stir the soul, if in the right mood. And so it was that she deserved to be playing to a larger audience.
Following on was a set from Moses, a Geordie duo with the harmonic sensibilities of The Proclaimers, the archly comic stance of They Might Be Giants and tunes to match any sweetly melodic guitar band in the history of pop music. Usually a full band, their set at the Royal Park was part of a nationwide tour to promote the forthcoming album The Swimming Zoo. The genial nature of the duo, making the audience laugh on numerous occasions, and the sparse musical arrangements (acoustic guitar, occasional tambourine and melodica), made for a truly memorable performance -watch out for these chaps.
After the energetic set by Moses, the equally energetic pop/rock stylings of local acoustic heroes Beautiful Feet would've been just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, somebody made a rather unwise decision to put Mabel Blue back on for a few more songs, completely losing the momentum that had been building nicely. Yes, it meant she was playing for a nearly full house, but unfortunately she wasn't able to hold the attention of more than a handful of people. The quality of the songwriting was still very strong and the performance heartfelt, although it must be said that things soon started to sound a little too same-y. In the right context, Mabel Blue would be a huge crowd-puller in her own right - some of the songs played early in her first set wouldn't sound out of place on Radio 2 - but being the proverbial meat in the sandwich of two upbeat pop acts just didn't work.
This evening's headliners were Beautiful Feet, a band who've been slowly building a following since their first live performances a year ago. Whether it's largely down to having a lot of contacts or purely through word of mouth, the Cellar is packed by the time the Feet start their set. Opener 'Headstrong' hits harder than its recorded counterpart on their recent CD release, and all the right buttons are pressed on songs old and new. A brand new song 'Weightless' is premiered towards the end of the set, a rhythmically varied and compelling song - if this is the direction the lads are going in, it certainly isn't a bad thing. Two crowd-pleasing covers are thrown in (California Dreaming and Englishman In New York), although I can't help but think that surely now they're at the point where they can abandon these in favour of their own material, which stands tall in the face of the otherwise stagnant Leeds rock scene. 'Daybreak' soars, 'Back to You' brings us back down to earth with mellow ease, and 'Beautiful Feet' remains the life-affirming sing-along it always was.