“Thanks for coming to see me play. In my house.”
It may be a joke on the grand stature of the venue he finds himself in this evening, but given how relaxed Conrad Lambert, aka Merz, appears to be, you’d be forgiven for thinking we have just stumbled into his living room for a late-night jam.
Bush Hall witnesses a bit of history tonight, albeit tenuous, as Lambert announces this is to be his first gig with a full band ensemble for six years and the only time that his third album, Moi Et Mon Camion, will be played in its entirety.
A brave move for a record that’s barely been on the shelves for 36 hours, but given the rapturous welcome to his presence onstage, the fans are clearly keen to hear the new material.
The album’s title track opens proceedings, bellowing through the crystal clear speakers with our showman littered in delicate lighting that covers the four walls of the room. His two-piece backing band both looking at Lambert intensely whilst playing, both to ensure they’re keeping time as well as a slight hint of admiration. The audience follow the trend, with Lambert’s drummer, clearly used to more hostile affairs gasping in-between song: “It’s so quiet in here, I’m not used to this.”
To a listener who’d been out of the loop in Merz’s work for the past couple of years, the new album, while still possessing some gorgeous moments, takes away the claustrophobia and intimacy from previous efforts. Whereas the likes of Cold Cigarette Room and 1999’s semi-hit single Many Weathers Apart were poignant and affecting, some of the new material is too layered, clunky even. This is far from dad rock territory fear not, but there is a certain maturity to his songwriting that wasn’t present previously.
This isn’t always the case. Silver Moon Ladders is a gorgeous song of daydreaming about climbing up to reach the stars, while The First And Last Waltz is nothing short of heartbreaking, the ending refrain lasting several minutes and the crowd’s rapturous appreciation bringing a touching element to proceedings.
The brief encore of oldie Lotus, perhaps all too naturally, gets the biggest cheer of the night before he jumps off the stage left, leaving the impression that a somewhat more extensive flick through the back catalogue could have turned what was a perfectly enjoyable gig, into a great one. But he still holds a loyal fanbase and with the stigma of being “the one Jo Whiley really used to like” long since vanished, Merz will hopefully be recording touching music for a long time yet.