It’s a Friday night and the Wilmington Arms is unsurprisingly busy on the last night of summer and full of the usual, inane post-work chitter-chatter and loud music pumping through the room. People are laughing, chortling away and reflecting on the summer that never was.
However, in the live room round the back of this pub, the atmosphere is completely different. In an intimate setting such as this – casual and informal with candle-lit tables and chairs – it would have been very easy to forget that you’re in a boozer were it not for the music next door seeping through. It makes it a little bit tricky to concentrate on Phildel‘s mainly piano-based support slot, which requires attention, but this crowd, which is admittedly very small, is an extremely attentive one and her heartfelt songs are warmly received.
By the time the main event arrives, the volume from next door has been magically turned down for Sweet Lights’ set. Shai Halperin is back in the UK in support of his debut album under this moniker (having in the past worked with The Capitol Years and Daniel Johnston). In preparation for a couple of festival appearances (Feastival, organised by Jamie Oliver and Alex James, and the much more enticing End Of The Road), he’s warming up with a low-key performance that is just shy of an hour. Just as his self-titled LP was made entirely on his own, he takes to the small stage with just a guitar, loop pedals and a backing tape providing the beats.
There are good and bad points to this approach. Whilst it sharply focuses the attention on Halperin, who mostly fills the gaps between tracks with either loops of guitar that begin to sound like white noise, it means that some of his meticulous songcraft skills aren’t well-conveyed. One of the joys of his album was hearing and enjoying different textures on every listen. On the plus side, he does try to recreate some of the otherworldly vibes as best as he can with his guitar and the relatively stripped-down nature of this set brings the songs and their melodies firmly to the fore.
And what great songs they are. Message On The Wire retains some of its effortless qualities whilst Hundred Needle Pins is a superb piece of songwriting and Waterwell even manages to get a couple of members of the crowd swaying. The highlight though is Endless Town, which is both engrossing and rewarding in equal measure. The rest of the set is padded out with a few covers (including material by Daniel Johnston) and, whilst one or two more of his own tunes would have been ideal, they’re no less captivating.
One can only wish for a day when Halperin is able to get a full band together to do his work justice. For now, this is still an impressive performance from an individual who has rather a knack for melodies.