Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Thorns @ Union Chapel, London

24 September 2003

Rock and Roll and the church have always seemed to me to be quite incongruous entities. However, a church is where I found myself, the Islington’s Union Chapel to be precise, to watch US country/folk types The Thorns.

I find churches rather strange places that I only tend to visit as a tourist. So it was more than a little odd to find myself sat in a pew, having just visited the neon signed bar, supping on a Red Stripe and listening to Nightmares on Wax’s Smoker’s Delight as the audience gradually filtered in. However, to look around the place and to hear the acoustics you really begin to appreciate what the venue is trying to do. The roof and interior are impressive and, well, church like, the view of the stage/altar is great, there is a tremendously intimate feel to the place and the sound is nearly peerless.

First to replace the vicar is the quirky Bic Runga who introduces herself as “You don’t know me, I’m here to sing you a song” to a frankly bemused audience. She quickly silences the murmuring with a number of cute solo tunes from her album, Beautiful Collision.

Following warm applause, she is replaced by a woman reminding us of the tradition of the church collection. Apparently the roof is in need of repair, but surreally the congregation is told that the best way to contribute to the fund is by drinking more at the bar…

The Thorns arrive to nearly a full house. Matthew Sweet looks like a younger, slightly chubbier Neil Young; Shawn Mullins, with his woolly hat, a British dad on his way to a winter football match and Pete Droge the epitome of the high school stoner. Thorns is their first track as Droge immediately reminds us, not for the last time, who we have come to see. Indeed lest we forget we are told that they sleep in brambles! The band dedicate the gig to a lady in the front row who really does not need the constant and actually funny reminding. This is Eveline’s 7th gig on their UK tour.

It has been widely written that the Thorns and their close harmony singing are redolent of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Although this is not far off the mark – Think it Over and Dragonfly especially jog the memory – it really should be a compliment. The three have written some superb, mostly feelgood west coast American songs and this is the perfect venue to showcase their pitch perfect harmonies. Runaway Feeling, I Can’t Remember and Among the Living stand out from a vastly enjoyable set that is largely faithful to their eponymous debut. The chapel’s intimacy also allows plenty of affable banter with each other and the audience.

Leaving to a standing ovation which is both predictable (we have been sat in pews for over an hour) and richly deserved they return for an encore of their new single, Blue and one more tune before leaving a hugely appreciative audience to begin the Australian leg of their tour.

While I don’t think I quite have the fervour of Eveline, when The Thorns cruise back into town I’ll be back.

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The Thorns @ Union Chapel, London