Live Music + Gig Reviews

Howling Bells + Fionn Regan + My Latest Novel + Beach House @ Royal Festival Hall, London

10 July 2007

Howling BellsWhat is the best way we want to be remebered? Probably for doing something important.

Bella Union, right now, are doing just that. Sharing a bloodline that stretches back from Sun Recordings, Factory, Dischord, Sub Pop and 4AD, their time is now. Where what they produce is something which people feel almost compelled to take the time and effort to absorb.

While the veteran music critic Paul Morley’s sermon bordered on listless fawning, his compering of the first of two night’s celebrating Bella Union’s 10 years did drive home this point, which is perhaps the central reason for Bella Union’s boom.

Beach House are being pitched as Bella Union’s next darlings-elect. It must be a daunting propisition for the minimalist duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. Their first show on these shores was a ‘mare, tonight feels a little wanting. Their floaty sound is better suited to a small club with the PA turned up for the intimacy it so demands, rather than Festival Hall’s life sucking acoustics (megabucks revamp on what sound enhancing walls guv?).

There isn’t much immediacy to the pair who keep their heads bowed while weaving out their dreamy soundscapes. While it may be a linear set, Beach House take time to reveal themselves, which is partly why this feels more like a stepping stone towards what ought to be a fruitful coming months for the pair.

My Latest Novel have had to fend off the words ‘collective’ and ‘Arcade Fire‘ so much in the past year that they are just going to have to live with it. They are very different of course, one could even say less formulaic in their song structures. The likes of I Declare A Ceasefire which unfurl with a random beauty are traits rare to see.

Something’s not quite right though. They are muscians through and through (which is a more apparent theme as the evening progresses) but much like Beach House, there is a stable they sit in and it never really goes beyond it.

Fionn Regan hurdled the barrier between the audience and performer with a fine showing of the gems which populate the album. He moved about with a spring in his step, warm banter and proved why he is one of the most prodigious singer-songwriters to emerge of late.

Snowy Atlas Mountains serene delivery cut through Festival Hall like no other moment at this point, while the decision to go unplugged midway through Be Good Or Be Gone charmed some life into the sprawling auditorium.

This time last year Howling Bells were a word of mouth sensation headlining the ICA. Tonight they are worthy stand ins for Explosions In The Sky, with a live show that is slick and well heeled (and not simply Juanita Stein).

While last term was humble jokes and heads down in concentration which came across pretty darn well, tonight there is a swagger which allows them to assume the mantle of headlining with ease. Stronger and bigger than ever before are Low Happening’s psychedelic crank, Broken Bones swinging nocturnal undertones

Editors’ Tom Smith joined the band for a reasonable stab at Nick Cave’s Where The Wild Roses Grow. Smith was surprisingly off and grumbled more than anything, while Stein sparkled for Kylie’s parts. At this point you wondered if any of Bella Union’s early roster were to make an appearance.

It wasn’t to be, with the climax seeing members of Beach House, My Latest Novel and label boss Simon Raymonde come out for a rendition of Johnny Cash’s A Thing Called Love.

So it was very much a Bella Union of the now, which is something to celebrate for sure.

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