With their most recent album, Walk The River, Guillemots have reverted to a more straightforward and melancholic sound that took a while to get used to. After the theatrics and playfulness of their two previous records it’s some detour and it does need a few listens but it’s more than a match for the dizzying heights of debut Through The Windowpane. As they enter the final leg of their UK tour at Camden’s majestic KOKO the band are keen to replicate their back-to-basics approach (well, by their standards anyway) on the road.
Their setlist contains a broad range of material from all three albums with the odd b-side here and there and for the most part, it’s a satisfactory mix with the band gamely attempting some of their more grandiose moments. What they lose in terms of a big orchestral sound they make up for by thinking up of more band-friendly arrangements. Annie Let’s Not Wait works wonderfully as an acoustic jam, Little Bear is breathtaking thanks in part to some effective use of the theremin and Falling Out Of Reach is far more successful in tugging the heartstrings in a live setting than on record, where it felt little bit like a by-the-numbers track.
There are some other nice touches that make the evening worthwhile. Opening with Kriss Kross, a standout from their second album Red, is a pleasant surprise whilst If The World Ends is absolutely beautiful with the crowd either transfixed by its power or by the equally pretty disco ball reflections. A brand new song called Southern Winds (played by Fyfe Dangerfield on his acoustic guitar) hints at possibly another new direction to come; his singing is in falsetto throughout and the tone is of stark contrast to their discography so far.
Ultimately though it’s those early hits that get the most recognition from the crowd. Made Up Love Song #43, the song that brought them to the attention of a larger audience in the first place, is an early highlight with Fyfe playing the opening melody on what appears to be the flattest portable keyboard in the world – looking as if someone has painted the keys and dials on to a piece of wood. After this quiet intro the rest of the band join in with a sense of purpose and urgency. This rush of euphoria is matched by the wonderful Trains To Brazil and traditional closer Sao Paulo in all its glory – turning from starry-eyed slow waltz to an infectious and glorious carnival tune.
There are certainly moments where things fall flat slightly – Get Over It and I Don’t Feel Amazing Now in particular are somewhat forgettable by comparison – and it’s hard to deny that there are points where you’re thinking “This is good, but if they had a few more bells and whistles – orchestra, choir, whatever – this would be a bit more special”. The trade-off though is a surprisingly intimate show that it is a solid representation of their career to date.
Guillemots played: Kriss Kross, Go Away, Made Up Love Song #43, If The World Ends, Vermillion, We’re Here, I Don’t Feel Amazing Now, Little Bear, The Basket, I Must Be A Lover, Falling Out Of Reach, Southern Winds, Annie Let’s Not Wait, Trains To Brazil, Yesterday Is Dead. Encore: Get Over It, Sao Paulo.