Live Music + Gig Reviews

Great Lake Swimmers + Sleeping States @ Jazz Cafe, London

18 November 2009

Going to see quiet music played live can be fraught with anxiety and difficulty – for some of the audience as well as the performers – but this was a night where less was most definitely more.

Though there was a constant hubbub of chatter towards the front of the Jazz Cafe it didn’t deter from some exquisite music making going on at the back, where Sleeping States just happened to be on stage. It seemed the most natural of coincidences for them to be stood there, main man Markland Starkie and accomplice Rose Clark performing with subtle grace, emoting quietly but pointedly over Starkie’s occasionally manipulated guitar sounds.

Whether by detuning or with reference to his box of tricks, he secured a wide range of timbres in accompaniment to a clear, unaffected voice, with Clarke responding with carefully picked guitar accompaniment or the soft beat of a drum. Sometimes you felt as if the music was coming from far off, and never quite made it to the foreground, but this was nonetheless an effective set that made an understated impact – in particular closing track Showers In Summer, propelled by the soft beat of Clarke’s kettle drum.

Toronto quintet Great Lake Swimmers have spent much of this year touring, consolidating an already dedicated live following in the process. Their strengths lie principally with singer Tony Dekker, whose burnished vocals carried beautifully without any need for exaggeration. The backing, which could so easily have gone staid in the wrong hands, given a predominantly slow tempo, was coloured by occasional bursts of mandolin and banjo, adding essential colour.

Songs from this year’s Lost Channels album dominated, naturally, with She Comes To Me In Dreams and Palmistry graceful highlights. When Dekkard took an acoustic set halfway through, what sounded like a rather dry subject for a song – architecture in Toronto from the 1950s – was raised to exquisite heights through voice and guitar alone.

Though it was a shame the stand-out parts for cello and violin were absent from the quieter songs, the Swimmers nonetheless had an extremely mellow sound, the double bass of Mike Overton rounding off the edges at the bottom. They seemed delighted by the reception they got – the crowd felt happy to make some noise after all – and it was well deserved.

buy Great Lake Swimmers MP3s or CDs
Spotify Great Lake Swimmers on Spotify

More on Great Lake Swimmers
Great Lake Swimmers + Sleeping States @ Jazz Cafe, London
Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels
Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara