San Francisco folk-rockers Vetiver have subtly developed theirsound over the past few years, with the far out psychedelic jams oftheir earlier records gradually giving way to the slicker guitarjangle of new album The Errant Charm. Last night’s well-balanced setat Shoreditch’s XOYO gave a packed audience the opportunity to enjoy amixture of the band’s old and new songs as they headlined a highquality three act bill that also featured 2011’s Glastonbury EmergingTalent Competition winners Treetop Flyers and mavericksinger-violinist Marques Toliver – both of whom wereexcellent.
Sporting his usual combination of hat and prominent facial hair,front man Andy Cabic was a relaxed presence on stage as he kicked offVetiver’s performance with The Errant Charm opener Wonder Why, whichlike many tracks on the album is dreamy, polished but ratherunengaging. Matters weren’t helped by some initial sound problems inthe venue and it wasn’t until a few songs in that Cabic and his bandmates really got into their stride.
The turning point was a confident, atmospheric rendition of oldfavourite Been So Long, one of the stand out moments from 2006’s ToFind Me Gone. Luna Sea, dating back to Vetiver’s 2005 eponymous debut,was another high point, although the absence of cello, once a stapleof the group’s sound, diminished its texture somewhat. The reaction ofthe crowd to this older material was noticeably more enthusiastic thanthe welcome accorded to The Errant Charm content, which can beattributed in part to the familiarity factor but also perhaps to theuncomfortable fact that Vetiver’s change in direction towards a ’70sMOR sheen has not been a resounding success. The trippy weirdness oftheir earlier music has definitely been reined in and tonight’sevidence suggests this has not been beneficial.
Vetiver are essentially a groove band, and when their multi-layeredguitars and keyboards are allowed to really stretch out and interweavethey can be a potent proposition, true to the freeform spirit ofvintage late ’60s California that informs their musical ethos sofundamentally. When they try and write punchier, more radio-friendlysongs, their lack of fizz and winning hooks and Cabic’s thin, reedyvoice become real drawbacks.
Nowhere was this more apparent than when the band performed anote-perfect cover of The Go Betweens‘ superlative Streets OfYour Town, with keyboards player Sarah Versprille contributingenergetic backing vocals. The work of great songwriters shone out likea beacon and made Vetiver’s own compositions seem somewhat pedestrianin comparison. Cabic commented that there didn’t seem to be many GoBetweens fans in the audience; perhaps this was just as well.
Like Vetiver themselves, their XOYO gig was good without beinggreat, agreeable but somehow underwhelming. That the band hassomething is not in question, but one suspects they need to go back tobeing a little more like their great friend Devendra Banhartand a little less like Fleetwood Mac if they’re going to makethe most of their strengths.