It’s hard to see Field Music as they make their way onstage due to the ridiculously bright lights that hover around the Queen Elizabeth Hall; so bright as to suggest sunglasses really should be worn indoors. Throughout what follows, some in the audience get annoyed with the constant battle between staring down the lights and preserving their eyesight.
Issues of early-onset blindness aside, as part of Richard Thompson‘s Meltdown this gig is a big deal for the Sunderland four-piece. David Brewis, drummer, guitarist and one of two lead vocalists, described it as ‘dream come true’ as they set about their stall mixing songs from their excellent new album, Field Music (Measure), alongside past triumphs.
They’re so enthralling to watch as musicians not just because their playing is, in general, remarkable, but because of the way they go about performing their songs. They seem to combine several pieces and mould them into suites. This works very well, considering their craftsman-like way of making music in the first place. It seems – but decidedly isn’t – effortless and, one or two minor errors aside, it’s immaculately done. It gives the impression that this is less of a conventional gig but more of a 90-minute long medley that needs to be heard from start to finish – rather like their current album.
What’s more, the songs themselves sound meatier and punchier live than on record. Let’s Write A Book has its tempo upped and its rhythm made even funkier; Them That Do Nothing is immediate and vibrant; and Tell Me Keep Me is propelled by a buzzy, excited bassline. The quieter songs are also given room to breathe in the grand surroundings; the gentle acoustic guitar plucking and vocal melodies of Measure ring out around the venue’s walls.
All that let the evening down was, oddly enough, the nature of the gig itself. Field Music are not used to playing venues of such grandeur and that, combined with their shyness in the field of stage banter, suggested that they were a touch nervy. Understandable, but they could have involved the seated and politely hushed-between-songs audience who’re hanging on every movement.
But Field Music are the kind of band who are intent on redefining what guitar-led music has to offer, and the moods, tones and textures it can create, rather than playing to crowds. Tonight, on a technical level, they seem to achieve their goals. Their musicianship is unbelievably tight and their performance has a unique flow to it. It is arguable that they spend a bit too much time on their craft and not enough on showmanship, but in the presence of their hushed, precise talent it’s a touch churlish to grumble.