Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Besties + The School + Silence at Sea + A Smile And A Ribbon @ O’Neill’s, Cardiff

2 August 2007

O’Neill’s on Cardiff’s Trinity Street is seldom used as a music venue, but tonight it stands proud, the teary eyes of Anna Karina staring out from a poster that promises everything under the sun by way of emotion.

The Cardiff indiepop community is still reeling with the memories of the recent Indietracks festival and gathers to celebrate what were a couple of its highlights along with two invaders from the relatively unknown.

A Smile and a Ribbon have been notching plaudits the country over on their recent UK tour. For their final date, they seem slightly nervous on the small stage, the delayed arrival of the PA system forcing them to tune up for a few minutes to an audience that has gathered early, but as the keyboard opens out for the definitive beginning, something special seems to happen.

They command an immediate respect from the audience, one that stands in utter anticipation in every quiet spot. This is a band of dreamy pop melody and inspired lyrical spurts that recall prime Hefner, poetry falling into the clefts of songs to lift them up to heights that bring a subtle empathy and tears to the eyes.

The performance is humble and unassuming, their songs given every chance to bloom and fall in full tenderness. Pebbles trickles out with an ebb and heartbreak that transfers itself from shy singer Rebecca Mehlman to the crowd in wondrous style, and we stand there in sheer wonder for A Nice Walk in the Park, its Hymn for the Cigarettes guitar chug seemingly much more accentuated and brilliantly deliberate tonight than on record.

A Smile and a Ribbon were a hard act to follow, but Silence at Sea have been pioneering their own kind of twee-pop on the small Cardiff scene for a while now, and take to the stage with a perfect mixture of reserve and theatrics. Guitarist / ukulele player Gareth is dressed in a cat suit he’s at pains to announce isn’t a panda bear, nor a magpie, and fuels the songs with a playful spark that subtly compliments vocalist Laura’s bittersweet lyrics.

Performance wise there’s definitely a touch of The Bobby McGees to Silence at Sea, only it’s not quite so pronounced in their songs, which are nuggets of emotional wonder that take you right into their heart and whisper quiet profundities in your ear.

It’s a brilliant, relaxed atmosphere in which the songs shine. More Than Her Heart Allows has a sublime kind of shimmer that evokes tonight’s previous band, while Memorise Everything floats with a kind of off-kilter melody that suggests Pavement in a new twee-punk incarnation. Tonight Silence at Sea are the perfect compliment to ASAAR’s pure hearts, and receive a similar ovation from a beguiled crowd.

Whisper it quietly, but there’s a great anticipation surrounding The School. People at Indietracks had agreed that they’re a possible Welsh incarnation of Camera Obscura, and as they squeeze onto the stage the sense of local curiosity is great. Seven of the band are crammed behind the speakers and as they etch out the opening numbers the crowd steadily dissolve into rapture.

In the genuine craving for a new Camera Obscura or Belle and Sebastian, the indiepop community endures lots of false dawns, but The School are fantastic, dripping with dreamy indiepop melody and a teary sentiment that makes the eyes water and heart leap. Their youthful songs are spinning in festivity with terrific flourishes that’ll set the dancefloor in emotional flames, and, like all the best things, it all seems like something of an accident, something that seems to have happened despite itself, natural and real as the light of day.

An amazing night so far, and still to come we have the band billed as Brooklyn’s own Talulah Gosh. High praise indeed, but as The Besties take to the stage and Marisa Bergquist and Kelly Waldrop begin their keyboard dualing between Rikky Walsh’s guitar and Frank’s drums we envision beatific Pop dreams.

The Besties’ tracks have a honey-coated wonder to lift you in the air on a warm summer’s night, humble lyrical twists that make you swoon and melodies to make you smile from ear to ear. They’re reaching a playful prime when hasty O’Neill’s bar staff cruelly enforce the eleven oclock musical watershed, but in the end it adds a sweet twist as the band, along with the whole audience, are led across the road to the City Arms by the pied-piper of Cardiff indie Gary from Twisted by Design.

At the Arms The Besties are fine to etch out the rest of their set acoustically while we all huddle around their keyboard like it’s New Year’s Eve. It ended here and started there, and everything in between was little less than sublime.

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The Besties + The School + Silence at Sea + A Smile And A Ribbon @ O’Neill’s, Cardiff