Years have passed since last Mojave 3 performed in London. Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell have ploughed their own solo furrows, and with no new band record to promote (yet), the purpose of this reunion was label 4AD’s 25th birthday celebrations.
The venue, Conway Hall, could scarcely have been more appropriate. Holding up to 500 people, it still feels like a school hall and, with live music on stage, the evening’s atmosphere verged on a school reunion. Support act Mark Kozelek even welcomed the sold-out audience to “London’s village hall”. The only surprise was the lack of a stall selling cottage industry fare.
Kozelek’s vocal delivery is as wispy as Neil Halstead’s. His lips are a foot away from the mic, creating a breathy effect over his finger-picking guitar work. For a Friday night and as a warm-up, his set is a little too sedate, and as the corners of his mouth never move his words are sometimes difficult to make out. A second acoustic guitarist bolsters his set at the beginning and close, but it’s a set that lasts too long. A return for an encore, for a support act already late off the stage, was overkill. Definitely an artist to be had in small doses.
Mojave 3 were rumoured to be playing an entire set of Red House Painters songs tonight. But such rumours proved unfounded as the band, complete with the vital ingredients of pedal steel and Hammond, unleashed a set largely comprised of their second and third albums, Out Of Time and Excuses For Travellers. Spoon and Rafter’s experimental tracks were left firmly off the set list, but Between The Bars made an appearance for a shambling singalong.
The biggest physical change in the band’s appearance was Neil. With a hefty beard and pruned hair he looked for all the world like a younger John Peel. Rachel, contrasting to his left, was her willowy, demure self. You Keep It All Hid, Rachel harmonising with Neil and pedal steel, was an early highlight, and opener My Life In Art set the fragile, hushed, downbeat-but-happy tone that was only punctuated by whoops of applause between songs.
Later, Yer Feet was poignant – any pins dropping would have been heard. But the band were rusty. Towards the end of the set, just before In Love With A View, Neil needed to retune his guitar. In his solo performances, such moments are always frought – I’ve seen him stop mid-song before as he couldn’t get his guitar in tune. Is it too much to have a second guitar tuned and ready backstage? Apparently so – one of the band’s best songs felt odd with an out of tune acoustic occasionally dipping into the mix rather than holding it together. Rachel, for her part, all but ordered him off the stage to get it fixed. It was an odd moment.
Technical difficulties aside, this set provided an excellent opportunity for a “best of” Mojave 3 set, and the audience were grateful for it. The band’s canon is such that they could have played for another hour and still not included any filler, but for a group away for what seems like so long, it was good to have them back.