Live Music + Gig Reviews

Campfire Trails 2010: Day 2 @ Troxy, London

16 September 2010

This second day of the Campfire Trails ‘festival’ spanned the Atlantic by scheduling Brooklyn-based Secretly Canadian signings Here We Go Magic alongside much loved British indie acts Fanfarlo and the Mercury nominated Wild Beasts. This line-up had a lot of promise on paper but somehow struggled to cohere into much of an event. Here We Go Magic, with an intriguing hybrid of krautrock and psychedelia on their recent album Pigeons, had the potential to be an exciting opening act, whilst Fanfarlo would provide whimsical charm and Wild Beasts all manner of theatricality, lyrical extravagance and their dependably high quality songs.

Unfortunately, Here We Go Magic’s rather sludgy live performance seemed to vapourise without leaving much of an impact. The band seemed rather aloof and detached and buried their occasional gift for a weird and warped melody with lengthy, curiously stilted one chord jams. They produced a fair amount of noise but never quite in an engaging way. They particularly lacked emotional impact – seeming instead somewhat posed and studied. Perhaps they were aiming for something close to the relentless, cyclical live jams produced by Sonic Youth in their prime but, lacking that band’s considerable experience and ability to interact, they floundered without direction or presence.

Fanfarlo fared better, in spite of lacking much in the way of distinctive character. The group seem to have hand picked elements from the worlds of contemporary indie and folk. With the range of instruments on stage (including percussion, violin and trumpet) and some imposing, driving rhythms (particularly on Luna), there was a clear echo of the work of Arcade Fire.

A bigger inspiration seemed to be the wayward, inebriated folk of Beirut. With the likes of Noah And The Whale and Mumford And Sons also drawing water from the same well, Zach Condon has quickly become a surprisingly significant influence on the young musicians of this country. This influence is especially transparent on The Walls Are Tumbling Down, which is a near facsimile of Condon’s Elephant Gun, although replacing his melancholy sensibility with something more brash and anthemic. It’s all familiar, amiable and enjoyable, but Fanfarlo will have to find their own voice if they are to become a band for the long term.

Wild Beasts, by way of contrast, are musicians who successfully found their collective voice at the earliest stage. Although borrowing the intricate guitar style of Johnny Marr and the wiry groove of Rip It Up-era Orange Juice, they had a palpably original weapon in the form of Hayden Thorpe’s extravagant, florid but occasionally also aggressive counter-tenor. This performance, their last in some time as they take a break from their demanding touring schedule to work on a third album, served to underline the equal significance of Tom Fleming’s rich baritone for their sound. Part of Wild Beasts’ tremendous sense of drama comes from the contrast between Thorpe and Fleming’s voices – two extremes of a male voice choir.

The other crucial element of Wild Beasts’ success is their considered arrangements and musical interactions. On stage, the four musicians combined to create a sound at once epic and spacious. Drummer Chris Talbot used additional percussion to produce a broader palette, whilst Fleming and Thorpe gamely swapped between guitar, bass and keyboards. From the opening rendition of The Fun Powder Plot, they sounded switched on and communicative. Energised performances of We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues and All The King’s Men met with a rapturous response from the crowd. Towards the end of the show, Thorpe seemed to express distaste and frustration with their debut single Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants, but then group then broke into it with remarkable gusto.

Perhaps the only downside to this vigorous and muscular performance was the light show. With the group constantly lit from below, they were rendered as barely visible silhouettes, whilst back lighting occasionally shone directly at the audience with blinding brightness. It was hard to find fault with Wild Beasts’ musicality, however. With their intertwining guitars, muscular sound and fantastically bawdy lyrics, they are undoubtedly a major act impatient to develop even further. It’s a shame that they weren’t matched with other bands with similarly strong identities.

  1. Campfire Trails 2010:
    Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

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