It’s not often that I’m left baffled by a gig. Bored, irritated and of course delirious, but baffled, no. Tonight’s Ed Harcourt gig has pulled wisps of lace over my eyes to leave me strangely non-plussed and indeed highly bemused.
Harcourt is touring his latest album The Beautiful Lie, a record full of enjoyable songs in which his swirling eccentricity comes of age. The gig starts well, with Harcourt busking around the auditorium. This novel way to start a gig invites the audience to a personal level. The sell out crowd at Cecil Sharp House respond with warm amusement.
Harcourt then takes to the stage with full band including two violins and double bass for Visit From The Dead Dog but the Ed we’ve felt connection to has disappeared far left on the low stage, invisible at his piano, the audience straining to see him. Still, his inter-song dialogues asking if we’ve had a good day, informing us that he’s been watching baseball that should have been cricket in Regents Park are affable and jolly.
He dedicates Scatterbrain to his brother “who’s not scatterbrained at all” and this quirky, cheery waltz delights the strangely un-moving audience, into muted whooping and cheering. We get to actually see Harcourt as he moves centre stage with guitar for Born In The ’70s, his ode to being patronised by older musicians. He moves into Shadow Boxing, but swamped by the staging, we lose sight of him again.
This continues throughout the gig, and he asks if everyone can see him, to which the reply is a unanimous ‘no’, so bless him, he stands to play Music Box at the piano, but he finds it uncomfortable and sits again, joking that his hip replacement bothers him. He remains silent however on the incessant click of the speakers and generally poor sound which is irritating and distracting and continues for the next couple of songs. It ceases thankfully for the lovely You Only Call Me When You’re Drunk which the still oddly quiet audience appear to enjoy, but which Harcourt comments on, resigning that the quiet must be because it’s new material he’s performing.
I’m less sure. The odd choice of venue and his disappearing act left of stage is the reason. This doesn’t stop Harcourt giving his all however in an attempt to jolly up and play some seriously good songs, and The Last Cigarette is a gem, just him and guitar, soft, beautiful and affecting. I Am The Drug and This One’s For You showcase Harcourt’s well crafted songwriting, and Rain On The Pretty Ones, for which he is joined on stage by friends and his new wife Gita, is lovely song. They look like they’re having fun, and this infects the audience to some kind of movement and singalong swaying for Revolution Of The Heart – which feels full of heart indeed.
The set ends with Loneliness, and a rip roaring sub-Elvis extravaganza, but the finale with Harcourt bashing a huge gong raises the stakes too late, and indeed, my bafflement emerges full throttle. Harcourt’s obvious talent seems swamped by the cold school hall like venue and the audience are left wanting to see him. The gig was supposed to be at the refurbished Union Chapel at Islington, and if only it had been. Transferred to a more intimate venue, with a better sound, Ed Harcourt’s charms could sway bafflement to enchantment. Next time maybe.