As Field Music (and their ‘Open Here’ orchestra comprising strings, brass, flute and percussion) take to the Barbican stage tonight the set up features several lamps interspersed between the instruments. They may well be serving practical or decorative purposes but there equally could be something metaphorical about them, a nod to the illuminating, clear-focused music that they specialise in. Tonight’s show saw them showcase excellent new album Open Here over two short sets (or two ‘45s’ as they jokingly referred to them) alongside selections from their back catalogue that, it’s easy to forget, stretches back to 2005.
Time In Joy starts the show, bursting into life with its wavering flute and nimble guitar riffs. Count It Up follows, all playful musical experimentation, melodic detours and Talking Heads-style lyrical progression. Both reveal how latest album Open Here contains quite a leap lyrically – the latter the most overtly political they’ve been (it addresses the Brexit referendum result) while the former shows their sardonic humour; “So you read the books, learned the tunes, of course that’s bound to help you pay the rent”. Count It Up also sees them at their angriest, railing against materialism (“Pounds and pennies aren’t the only kind of capital”).
Just when it feels like they may play the new album in order they break it up, with the pronounced riffs and funk-infused workout of Disappointed. They go back further into their catalogue on A House Is Not A Home from second album Tones Of Town which demonstrates the sheer athleticism deeply embedded in their music. It’s followed by the string quartet playing the richly ornate title track of the new album with the Brewis brothers managing the challenging vocal harmonies impeccably. Front Of House meanwhile shows their mastery of structure, at times sounding like a short piece of leftfield electronica you’d find on labels like Warp being played out on strings, brass and woodwind.
No King No Princess adds another dimension to the first half, an insanely catchy song dedicated to the promotion of gender-neutrality inspired by the birth of David Brewis’ daughter. It also sees some fantastic vocals from Liz Corney from The Cornshed Sisters (tonight she handles all synths and backing vocals for Field Music). Like all of their tracks there is a discernible joy in the precision with which they execute all elements. It also offers proof (if any were needed) of just how naturally talented they are as musicians. The groove-heavy Let’s Write A Book and (I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing close the first half.
The second half starts with a short instrumental introduction of Abide With Me. Back in 2005 it opened single You’re Not Supposed To but tonight it segues straight into The Noisy Days Are Over. They return to Open Here with the wiggly, elastic guitar lines of Goodbye To The Country and Checking On A Message. The latter in particular paradoxically shows both the flexibility found within the tightness of their music. The stomping, sax-driven Share A Pillow is followed by Them That Do Nothing which boasts some terrifically conspicuous riffs.
Throughout they try to downplay the formal surroundings of the Barbican with some funny in-between song exchanges. David reveals how a large part of his music GCSE involved learning Movin’ On Up by Primal Scream on guitar, they debate the merits of the classifying the flute as a ‘rock instrument’, joke about playing Born To Be Wild and Smoke On The Water as encores and David confesses how he “knacked” Stay Awake in the previous run of shows in Newcastle before then coming perilously close to doing it again due to some slightly mistimed amp management (his brother Peter wastes no time in telling him he’s done it again from behind the drumkit). Find A Way To Keep Me closes the main set with a flourish, joyfully building layer upon layer before they encore with It’s Not The Only Way To Feel Happy from their debut album. It puts a seal on a wonderful show, a true triumph of imagination and application.