Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Czars + Rosie Wilby @ Spitz, London

21 December 2002

The Czars

The Czars

There were almost too many acts on the bill to count – on one hand, at least – tonight, as Christmas loomed ever larger on the horizon. Mince pies were laid out on small, circular tables in the always intimate venue that is the Spitz, alongside candles and beneath gelled spotlights. The atmosphere was perfect – it was all down to the musicians to keep their end of the deal.

The first of these, and the only solo act of the evening, was relative newcomer Rosie Wilby, armed with a guitar and a banter-led charm which, combined, instantly won over the still assembling audience of Saturday night punters. In between songs she would chat openly with the assembled personages present in a manner somewhat removed from the stereotypical opening act – this lady sounded confident.

Her music, too, was bold, ballsy even, beginning with the powerful Be There which, even without a backing band, caused all present to cease chattering and give the lady the attention she deserved. Elsewhere in her set, there were moments where it seemed as though she’d stopped playing guitar or singing as the particular part of the song was not ordinarily hers to play – something that will be remedied, surely, by the acquisition of a few more musicians. But she acquitted her lonesome well, and at the end of her set there were considerably more people watching than there had been at the beginning.

She was followed by a band called Infinite Spark – a duo, we thought at first, with a boy on guitar and a girl on vocal duties. But at the conclusion of their low-key opener they were joined by a rhythm section – the guitarist turning out to be the drummer. A Portishead influence was detected, for whispery female vocals over stark rhythm parts are seldom derived from anyone else these days, and their set passed off competently. By this time the house was already full to bursting.

And then came a band who showed every sign of wanting success, of even deserving it, but somehow you just knew they’d never ever get it – Byrne. An Irish act, fronted by a stocky chap who sat down to play guitar frantically, and sat down some more to play keyboard wistfully, their music was developed if less than memorable. You knew they were putting everything they had into the show, but somehow none of the songs stuck in the head by its end.

Which brought us to our happy-go-lucky headliners, The Czars. They’ve toured with The Flaming Lips and David Gray in the last couple of years – and perhaps this has helped, for front man John Grant seemed from the start totally at ease with this performing malarky, alternating as he did between electric piano, vocals and pint with disarming ease. His curly hair was styled into two platted, drooping branches, one at either side of his head, and added facial hair gave him a somewhat unkempt yet endearing appearance.

Grant was happy enough stepping out of the limelight for those song sections where neither his vocals or piano playing skills were required, preferring to stand instead supping his pint and watching his colleagues, but when he was involved the group seemed to come to life. Grant’s lyrics and tobacco-shot voice tell of heartfelt emotions, and songs such as Drug had the attention of everyone in the room. For the uninitiated onlooker – of which I was one – The Czars created a feelgood vibe and made the best of the intimate venue.

While I’d never heard The Czars before this evening, I resolved to seek out a copy of their latest album on the strength of this performance. After all, if touring’s about anything, it’s surely to get your audience to do just that.

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More on The Czars
The Czars – Best Of
The Czars @ Lyric Hammersmith, London
The Czars + Rosie Wilby @ Spitz, London