Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Irrepressibles @ Barbican, London

29 January 2011


Tonight was one of those nights when costumes did their level best to upstage the music of their wearers. Visual treats at The Irrepressibles’ gigs are a given, but sartorial spleandor is never at the expense of the lush world their music creates.

Before the headliners take to the stage, Gabby Young And Other Animals show they’re practically the ideal support act for a Saturday night. They’re not scared of an crowd that, for the most part, might not have heard their music and they involve the audience as much as they can and in any way they can. Not that the audience need much encouraging; they are won over by a joyous 40 minutes of trumpets, singalongs, accompanying dancers in the stalls and all kinds of festivities that add up to a glorious carnival atmosphere. Young’s voice is phenomenal; at times she belts it out effortlessly and puts some of the up-and-coming female singers to shame.

In contrast, The Irrepressibles enter in near-darkness and couldn’t be any further removed from what went before in terms of mood and style. The band, a 10-piece orchestral pop collective led by Jamie McDermott, have been touring for the last year bringing their much underlooked debut album, Mirror Mirror, to a live audience through what is billed as the ‘Mirror Mirror Spectacle’. This is their first time in the capital in a theatre and the setting sees McDermott’s artistic ambition fully realised.

The show, which lasts just over an hour, sees them play everything from Mirror Mirror alongside two extra treats in the form of Love Laced Your Heart With Diamonds and Lullaby On The Lid Of My Eye. The wonderful songcraft and arrangements on record shine even brighter live and soar to greater heights. Stand outs from the set include My Witness, which goes through all kinds of motions, and a spine-tingling encore featuring The Tide and In This Shirt that is powerful enough to cause goosebumps.

However, what makes them stand out is the way that they present themselves; the evening is just a much a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. The band are flanked by eight mirrors across the stage and, whilst McDermott is very much the man in the middle and the focus of attention, the rest of the musicians are spread out. They sway in carefully choreographed fashion, involving themselves in every note they play. The remainder of their lights are fairly basic – lightbulbs that glow and flickering LED light panels – but their sparse qualities add tension and atmosphere to the music. This works particularly well on songs like I’ll Maybe Let You where most of the musicians appear like haunting silhouettes.

It’s easy to look at what The Irrepressibles are trying to do on paper and have fears about it being a bit ‘too much’ and a bit overly flamboyant. But the end result is a concert that is a prime example of what happens when an artist presents a bold live show that strengthens and adds an another dimension to their songs. As everyone on stage takes a bow, they receive a standing ovation from a crowd that has been dazzled by what they’ve just seen. It’ll be fascinating to see where McDermott goes from here as far as future live shows go, but the Mirror Mirror Spectacle is an overwhelming and unabashed triumph.

The Irrepressibles played: I’ll Maybe Let You, Love Laced Your Heart With Diamonds, My Witness, In Your Eyes, My Friend Jo, Knife Song, Forget The Past, Nuclear Skies, Anvil, Splish Splash Sploo, Lullaby On The Lid Of My Eye. Encore: The Tide, Transition Instrumental, In This Shirt.

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This Music Made Me: The Irrepressibles
The Irrepressibles – Nude
The Irrepressibles @ Barbican, London
The Irrepressibles @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London