Live at Angel's Share on Sunday, 6th May 2007
On every single table this evening lies a small array of business cards, showing an acoustic guitar with a trilby leaning on its headstock at a jaunty angle - an instantly recognisable trademark of the alter-ego of Tristan Mackay, "The Bedroom Orchestra", one of this evening's acts. Even to those who didn't already have their suspicions, the many tables adorned with these cards make it very clear that despite the order on the line-up this show is absolutely ready to be stolen by Tristan Mackay. To go either before or after such an anticipated performance is going to be tricky, but Colin Mounsey and Joff Whitten have such tasks this evening.
First up is Colin Mounsey. The whole set has an undeniable air of being rather uninspired. This kind of performance is always frustrating - there is nothing to dislike but neither is there anything striking or memorable about it, and trying to really put my finger on the weak points is always unsuccessful. He alternates between playing guitar and keyboards, and the parts for both of these are very standard and played by rote. It's difficult to differentiate one song from another but at least there's nothing particularly musically offensive and it works as a nice, gentle preamble to the rest of the gig.
By the time Tristan Mackay starts playing, the extremely small room is seething, so it's a welcome relief when he asks for a little less nattering so everyone can hear the music; otherwise I imagine this would have been the first gig when my hearing was more affected by the audience than the music. Most of the animated chatter can, however, be attributed to the considerable excitement surrounding this set. Having built up a large fan base through busking in Leeds city centre (consequently becoming known by almost all Leeds shoppers as 'the amazing busker with the trilby') and MySpace Music, most of the audience are here only to see him. Luckily, he more than lives up to everyone's expectations. His set is enormously energetic, and in between songs he engages the audience with charismatic banter in true showmanship style. Playing his own material as well as a few covers for good measure, the whole room is won over by his expressive and warm voice as well as some nice chord and fret work. His own songs which he performs this evening, for the most part from the Tales of a Bedroom Orchestra EP, come across fantastically well and promise good things for his future. His music echoes the class and songwriting skills of Ray Lamontagne and the soul elements of James Morrison, but does rather outdo them. Obviously not ashamed of his musical influences, he does covers of both of these artists during his performance, as well as Cohen's Hallelujah, a busking favourite of Tristan and his audience equally, to finish a truly brilliant set.
Unfortunately for Joff Whitten, everyone's attention has now dwindled and his set seems to savour of anti-climax. This is a shame as he's playing some intriguing stuff. Armed with looping pedals galore - and a pretty snazzy pair of socks that while probably not contributing to his musical ability are a show piece in themselves - one man and his guitar are transformed into more polyphony than would seem likely. While I'm fully aware that the three or four different guitar and voice parts built up throughout the songs are merely a series of loops and all that digital jazz, it's still remarkable and confusing to watch, barely seeming humanly possible. It's not easy-listening, taxing is more the word that comes to mind, it's more than worth it merely to work out the intricacies of the many guitar and vocal parts weaving together. "Eyesore (Lunatic and Fame)" is particularly impressive, and the sheer depth of it leaves me reeling.
And to add the cherry on top, Tristan Mackay and Joff Whitten treat us to a blues jam session, giving both the opportunity to show off their substantial musical skill in the all-important improv sections. Being careful not to throw the genius tag around, it's better to say it was an awesome finish to an awesome gig.