Campfire Trails is a new initiative. It’s launched itself as a festival, when really it just looks like a series of gigs at the same venue, East London’s art deco palace the Troxy. However, the availability of three-day passes and the deliberation that’s gone into ensuring the line-ups hold up cohesively suggest that it’s an event that can be taken as a whole.
The generosity in giving us four acts on its opening night mean that we start earlier than one normally would, and at 7pm, Vermont trilling trio Mountain Man open to a devastatingly small audience. Largely a capella, the three of them are more appealing when they employ a guitar. Standing out as the most interesting track sonically, they cuckoo on River and use heavy breathing as a percussive tool. Their finely tuned harmonising is quite astonishing, but its sweetness does grate after a while and 25 minutes proved enough.
The last time we caught White Rabbits they were supporting Spoon at the Electric Ballroom and tonight we can see why. They’re experimental in the same way Spoon are when they’re not being very experimental. They’re ambitious in their songwriting and pay particular attention to percussion – at times three of the six of them are drumming with maracas, tambourines or whatever comes to hand. Young and full of promise, they keep getting better.
A surely inebriated Adam Green followed next with a trainwreck set on the last night of a three-month tour. In a frilly white shirt with his curly hair hiding under a boater hat, the former Moldy Peach tonight resembles a cross between Har Mar Superstar and Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen.
Style aside, his music is stranger still. His songs don’t seem to be contemporary or even particularly likeable. Instead they’re wedged somewhere between cheesy, easy listening cabaret and The Doors. Things improve a little when he ditches his band and sings a couple of songs on his own, allowing his deep voice to shine through. He tries his hardest with an over-enthusiastic stage presence, but in all it’s a little painful. Some unwise interaction with the crowd “just because I’m from New York doesn’t mean I think I’m better than you” is met by a silent non-reaction, although he almost saves himself by admitting he thinks “this is nice – you guys are nice people”. And he manages to crowdsurf successfully. He sings of his liking of drugs, but in all, Adam Green seems to be a Class A irritant.
Headliners The Felice Brothers bring things back up more than a few notches. They merge a variety of different folk influences, from Irish to Balkan to Dylan, with an epic cacophony of rock sounds. They use violins and accordions and washboards and provide so much energy, they approximate The Waterboys if they were fronted by Conor Oberst but possessed by the spirit of Gogol Bordello.
The three Felice brothers take turns to sing, but it’s largely Ian who leads. His vocals are a treat for anyone who likes that throaty struggle of a voice so favoured by folk singers, but compared to his brother James he has little stage presence, hunched as he sings, his face blank. James on the other hand is the star tonight, dominating the stage with his presence and alternating between keyboards and accordion. Singing on Let Me Come Home, his voice is emotive and raspy like Ray LaMontagne‘s.
There are perhaps too many waltzing, drinking songs which tire after a while, but as they encore with the spooky, funky Helen Fry, it’s a dramatic and brilliant end to four hours of four different takes on modern Americana. Campfire Trails got off to a blazing start.