It’s a sold-out gig involving indie cover star and former Test Icicle Lightspeed Champion, with Semifinalists. But it begins with a beatific bolt from indie folk land.
Some say that Newport is Cardiff’s chimneysweep (not me, I’ll have you know), but if so Tournaments emerge from the experience unharmed. Wearing colourful, unobnoxious T-shirts, they have the indie folk ambition of The Decemberists and a sound that kicks the ass of most young industry wannabes.
With lead man Gethin Pearson’s passionate vocals and Niamh Aine’s violin filling out the songs, Tournaments are a quaint, captivating lesson in passion, craft and fun over pretension, and we even get a fine bit of lap steel to round it all off.
I’d been tipped off about Semifinalists before, but I might have to disqualify the source after tonight. They’re a characterful bunch, with our headliner Dev Hynes, aka Lightspeed Champion, playing guitar in his Russian hat and outsize glasses that lend him a cartoon air (reasonably enough, considering his own band’s name derives from one of his own cartoon strips). The bassist jumps around like Jackie Chan and singer Chris Steele-Nicholson is a Brian Molko-like statue in the middle of it all. As for the music, it consists of rather boring prog-rock plodding with not quite enough inspirational moments to hold it up.
How can you play violin to indie rock music that isn’t quite sure of itself? It’s a hard task. The bald headed man on stage with Lightspeed Champion tries, but Tournaments were much better earlier. You get the impression that Dev Hynes has heard of Darren Hayman and is following the dream to be as good, with a dollop of Americana thrown in for good measure, but what comes out is only one tenth of the way there. Hynes, in town to promote recently released debut album Falling Off The Lavendar Bridge, looks just as outlandish as he did earlier as Semifinalists’ guitarist, the Russian hat still sitting on his head even though it’s boiling up in here. But the often anthemic sounds are a little too studiedly self-conscious rather than poignant.