Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit at Birmingham Glee Club 30/1/08

    Birmingham Glee Club
    30th January 2008

    Fresh from supporting the likes of Jack Penate and Iron & Wine, Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit are back, this time on a small headlining tour. The rich, old-style folk sounds are often at odds with his youthful good looks, but luckily his voice is a good one and so this is easily overlooked. The well-heeled storytelling and imagery in Flynn’s musical tales are certainly more audibly akin to Iron & Wine than Penate and Flynn’s backing band do a fine job of supporting the tales with fantastic music.

    The short support slot comes from nineteen year-old Londoner Jay Jay Pistolet. A mere four songs long Pistolet seems awkward on stage, blaming this on the coke and Vanilla ice-cream from Whetherspoons, but more likely it’s to be the closeness of the audience. It’s a terrible shame that his set is so short, his voice is deeper than Flynn’s and he sings with the same richness which seems to be coming from the more populist female singers from London. Pistolet’s rich voice fits in well with the simplistic acoustic guitar he plays. His few songs seem to lament over love lost, emphasised on the fantastic song ‘Stuck On Us’. It really would have been nice to have a longer set from Pistolet, but these four songs were a good introduction to his music.

    The hour long set from Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit is also on the short side, but the numerous songs and constant instrument switching makes it feel longer. It is almost possible that Flynn and his band could play any instrument thrown at them, playing anything from a fiddle to a flute. Each of the four core members play at least three instruments throughout the set, leading to a diverse sound all rooted in a traditional folk sound, but moving into Celtic folk with the aid of the fiddle. Flynn’s voice perfectly spins situations and stories, with the addition of his sister on backing vocals adding melancholic layers to the songs.

    However the real problem at this gig is the venue itself. The Glee Club is perfect for comedy, a small intimate venue, which allows comedians to interact with its audience, but for a music venue its intimacy is intimidating – as admitted by Jay Jay Pistolet. You get the feeling that Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit would also have more to say between songs if it weren’t for the fact the audience wasn’t literally stepping over the set to get the bar. The drummer and Flynn do try and banter, but the awkwardness of the setting is obvious. It’s a shame, for a venue that brings rising talent to the second city, it seems to scare them off.

    Excluding the lack of banter and the swiftness of the performances, both Jay Jay Pistolet and Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit show the signs of being great artists, and had the venue been more befitting the gig would be more engaging. Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit support Laura Marling and will be back at the Glee Club in March, hopefully with a little more confidence in the venue.

    *This was originally posted on my old blog*


    Stars at the Birmingham Barfly 28/1/08

    Birmingham Barfly
    28th January 2008

    I’ll admit to going to this gig because I vaguely listen to the band more than being a fan, yet Stars are a band worth seeing live. They seem to play a wistful brand of American indie-pop music that is totally at odds with the self-admitting depressing lyrical content.

    It may be the acoustics of the barfly, but first band Destroy Cowboy’s set resembled that of a bunch of fifteen year-olds who were given instruments for Christmas and are determined to make as much noise as possible. They’re probably talented but the selfish playing of every instrument comes off as noise.

    Main support comes from Apostle of Hustle and luckily they make up for the lesser first support. Their sound is far more similar to Stars and more importantly they don’t take themselves too seriously – announcing they’re “from Canadia, you guys have heard of Canadia right?” They seem at home on stage and this is evident with tight-knit songs and banter between songs.

    Stars arrive with the most ornate decoration the Barfly has seen, with 5 lamps and enough flowers to put a florist to shame, which fortunately decorate the industrialised venue. They open with the line “when there’s nothing left to burn you have to set yourself on fire” from album ‘Do You Trust Your Friends’ which shows the depressing nature of the songs. However the band themselves appear to less depressed than the songs would suggest; bantering with the audience and giving out some of the assortment of flowers. The male lead singer pogo’s round the stage and adds energy to the show that the subdued music leaves behind.

    Stars played a large range of songs from their various albums well, but the audience seemed somewhat lukewarm, which was unsurprising given how cold the venue was. Stars play a brand of American indie-pop which isn’t exactly known for its enthusiasm and despite the cold and the depressing lyrics, the performance itself was fun and the crowd seemed at least somewhat interested, but not entirely compelled.

    *This was originally posted on my old blog*


    Dashboard Confessional a the Birmingham Academy 21/1/08

    Birmingham Carling Academy 2
    21st January 2008

    Having the chance to see an acoustic performance of Chris Carrabba’s alias of Dashboard Confessional is a real treat, especially as in recent times Dashboard’s offering have been more electric. Luckily with the turn back to the more stripped down sound on latest album The Shade of Poison Tree, Carrabba has returned to his acoustic sound and the UK.

    Support comes from British band The Tournaments, who recently supported Lucero and played the much smaller Bar Academy here last month. They’re an okay band, but seem lost somewhere in between the harsh British indie and the more melodic American kind. They clearly have some fans here who are clapping along to their nostalgic longing sounding song, but the majority of people are clearly just waiting for Carrabba, who makes an appearance wandering around the crowd.

    Carrabba opens the show with Swiss Army Romance, a song from his first album, which is usually is just Chris and his guitar, but the enthusiastic audience provide almost another instrument in their backing vocals. In fact the whole show becomes a sing-a-long and Carrabba himself comments that this is the best way to hear his songs, they’re better than they ever could be on their own. After ‘Vindication’ the fan interaction prompts Carrabba to admit he fell in love with the audience a bit and pleeds to extend sleep well. There is clear fan interaction and banter with the audience in a manner that shows real connection between the man and his fans.

    Carrabba comments on how loved and how special it is to be able to be on stage, it’s oddly difficult to hear someone gush about his feelings in such a manner outside of his songs – some times it seems almost too over the top to be real, yet there’s the belief that Chris Carrabba really is just this honest. Telling the audience that during ‘she pulled you in she bit your lip’ the song dragged him back into the moment he wrote it. And he even admits that many of the songs are about girls and when someone questions him on the life of a rockstar he questions the audience if they were doing his job would they have a few girls or a lot. It really feels like the audience are treated as friends rather than fans, he even suggests that we should visit his hometown.

    Chris admits he’s going to play “enough songs to make your head spin” and deftly runs through most fan favourites and covers a Counting Crows song ‘Angels of the Silence.’ The audience is informed that he never intended to play this song, but that this guy was his hero and he wanted us to hear it. It’s a fantastic song that fits in so well with Dashboard’s repertoire. We’re also treated to new song ‘Get Me Right’; an interesting song which talks of feeling lost from religion and needing a maker, something which is previously an untouched subject in a sea of songs about women and relationships. However newer album ‘Poison Tree’ has started this diversity, including ‘Golddigger’ which Carrabba sings live and if ‘Get Me Right’ is an indication, the branching out will be found in the next album. Ending the set with ‘Hands Down’ he admits that he has no idea why it is this song has connected with so many people, but he’s glad it has. It really is a perfect way to end a wonderful show.

    Dashboard Confessional’s music has always been heartbreakingly honest and seeing Chris Carrabba sing live with nothing more than his voice and a guitar, he appears to embody this. Occasionally his honestly seems so over the top a cynic would suggest its insincere, but the fans lap it up. He plays all the favourites fantastically well and the sing-a-long element just adds to the atmosphere of the show. Seeing Dashboard Confessional in such an intimate environment really is a treat.