Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Unbending Trees @ Luminaire, London

4 December 2008

A good deal of hype has grown around The Unbending Trees in the last few weeks. Discovered by Ben Watt over MySpace, the band had flown over from Hungary and were in celebratory mood, marking the addition of a drummer to promote them from a trio to a quartet.

Yet celebration, in the eyes of singer Kristof Hajos, is necessarily a dish served icy cold. For his music gazes intently at the down side of life, staring often at the floor – but with an ever-present twinkle in the eye. He makes a mischievous front man, glinting at the audience as he instructs them to come closer, then gazing out beyond them as he sings from a particularly poignant memory.

He is flanked by classical pianist Balzs Havasi, complete with a Jason Donovan hairdo from the Scott Robinson era. A barnstorming intro in the style of Liszt sets a rather misleading scene, from which the gig takes a while to recover. If quiet is the new loud for The Unbending Trees, this is a funny way of showing it.

The band are most effective in the quiet numbers, where Hajos’ voice plumbs extraordinary, breathy depths, bringing to mind the intense intimacy of Stephin Merritt as it does so. New recruit Andor Gabor comes into his own here, using subtle techniques to elicit a slight rumble from the drums, nothing more. Much of the Luminaire warms to this in silence, save for the odd conversation in Hungarian, drifting over from the side table.

Hajos is unaffected, the soul searching torch songs continuing with their dark Romanticism, punctuated on occasion by Peter Hary’s subtle muted trumpet and by Havasi’s Nyman-esque accompaniments, themselves instrumentals of their own accord. Gradually the venue falls under the vocalist’s spell, as the tensions of an introverted dramatist come to the surface. Hajos wants to be heard, but has to go through painful processes to make his speech.

Supporting the Budapest band are a completely different bunch altogether, The Lost Levels having arrived down the A11 from Norwich. Pretty much the only common link between the two is Ben Watt’s surfing of MySpace once again – and for the second time he looks to have found something with staying power.

The quintet revel in a pastoral subject matter that makes them very English and brings to mind early Genesis and Pink Floyd, yet they don’t travel too far down that road. Instead in songs like Game Over they offer a surprising amount of emotion in honour of a computer game, introduced with endearing humour.

It would be criminal were we not to hear more of both acts; The Unbending Trees look to be well on their way to securing a cult following, their music casting an uncomfortable spell. That said, they’re clearly a band still in development.

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More on The Unbending Trees
The Unbending Trees: “My voice would never work with any other backing” – Interview
Video: The Unbending Trees – What Do You Know (Live)
The Unbending Trees @ Luminaire, London
The Unbending Trees – Chemically Happy (Is The New Sad)