After almost 15 years on the road this is, irrepressible front man Johnny Bramwell informs the audience, I Am Kloot’s first ever sell out tour. This sudden surge in popularity after a career spent mostly in resolute obscurity is largely due to the critical adulation heaped upon 2011’s Sky At Night, an unexpectedly inspired record that remains one of the decade’s finest to date. New album Let It All In has maintained I Am Kloot’s rise, making the national chart’s top 10 and giving them the opportunity to sell out major London venues rather than the north-west pub back rooms that in many ways suit their music better.
Like Joy Division and The Smiths before them, I Am Kloot’s Mancunian roots are absolutely fundamental to their sound – quite simply, none of these bands could have come from anywhere south of Knutsford Services. As the band prepare to open the show, one wag sums up this perception by repeatedly yelling “up the north”, eliciting the withering put down “is that all you can say – it’s going to be a long night” from the droll Bramwell before he launches into Morning Rain, one of the best tracks from 2001 debut Natural History.
The bulk of the material in the first half of the concert comes from Let It All In, a solid rather than outstanding set of songs delivered with great proficiency, ranging from Shoeless, a tender tribute to Bramwell’s daughter, to the jaunty, Beatlesey Some Better Day and the raw, intense Hold Back The Night, which soars impressively to a climax with additional strings and woodwind.
At the mid way point, the band briefly departs to leave Bramwell alone on stage with his guitar. He jokes that this change to their live act coincided with the introduction of the smoking ban, but the truth is it gives him a chance to show what an pure, unadorned talent he is, with a beautiful rendition of another early favourite, Fear Of Falling, which has echoes of Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright. Bramwell’s voice is in its own way one of the finest in modern rock, ranging from a rasping, warm croon to an anguished holler and with considerably more soul than many more technically accomplished performers. Together with his engagingly natural, laid back banter with the crowd, it makes him very much the focal point of the evening’s performance.
Towards the end of the set, some of the best loved tracks from Sky At Night start arriving thick and fast. To The Brink – dedicated archly by Bramwell to the Sunday Times who described him in a recent review as a ‘heavy drinker’ – is arguably the zenith of his song writing achievements thus far, a wonderfully elegant, evocative portrayal of an alcoholic outsider which is lent a whole extra dimension by the addition of a mournful, Gallic chanson-tinged accordion solo. Radiation also receives a makeover, with a stately, echoing piano now the only presence alongside Bramwell’s lonely lament, while the infectious jangle of Proof showcases I Am Kloot at their melodic best. The encore – a long, psychedelic rendition of These Days Are Mine from Let It All In – is a little disappointing in comparison.
Therein lies the dilemma with Bramwell and his cohorts – they’ve always been good, but for one album they briefly scaled greatness and all their other work does suffer somewhat in comparison as a result. This gig was hugely enjoyable, but simply playing Sky At Night from start to finish would have made it unforgettable.