If you, like me, spent the formative years of your musical education listening to the-then fledgling indie station du-jour XFM, especially the husky tones of evening session DJ Natasha Desborough, you might have come across wistful, lovelorn mini-anthem Don’t I Hold You by Boston-based threepiece Wheat.
So fleeting was their success, however, that it would be no surprise if you’d missed them, for although their low-fi charms were highly regarded around the late-90’s fad for chill out music, commercial success consistently eluded them. Another well-liked album, Per Second, Per Second, Every Second, passed in 2003 without too much public attention, and then… nothing.
Rumours of a split of this most mysterious and beguiling of alt-rock acts were further exacerbated by the band’s almost-total communications blackout, before, early this year, a new record – the enigmatically titled Everyday I Said a Prayer for Kathy and Made a One Inch Square – was released with little fanfare.
So this, a show at Kilburn’s superb but tiny Luminaire, is a show that many Wheat fans thought may never happen. Possibly the dearth of new material over the past half a decade may explain the pretty sparse crowd here, but the results are good enough to raise the hairs on the necks of the group of dedicated believers – some of whom even commit the cardinal sin of sitting at the front of the stage – gazing in awe at their returning heroes.
While the band may rightly face charges of being overly-fey on record, here they beef their sound up considerably – singer/songwriter Scott Levesque turning in an accomplished performance that belies his oft-synthesized album vocals, and co-founder and drummer Brendan Harney tearing into his skins like a cross between Tommy Lee and Wilco’s Ken Coomer – fierce, intelligent and wonderfully in keeping with the band’s quite/LOUD then-add-reverb ethos.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on Everyday I Say… album track An Exhausted Fixer – a bizarre song that mixes a slightly mawkish spoken word piece with some ebullient drumming and a chanted chorus – which turns into a crashing, triumphantly drawn-out set piece in the tiny confines of this room above a pub.
Most recent single Move=Move is pure bubblegum, with a chorus about “The things that you love should be set free / the things that you love come naturally, ” both as cute and as worldy-wise as the faux-naivity of Sparklehorse’s recent Danger Mouse collaboration Dreamt for Lightyears in the Belly of a Mountain, and set highlight Slow Fade is a glorious, seven-minute long breakdown that both deafens and amazes.
Of course, the loudest cheers are reserved for songs from 1998 record Hope & Adams – the one that spawned a thousand chill-out compilations. Don’t I Hold You, which was used to devastating effect in the otherwise-rubbish Cameron Crowe flick Elizabethtown, is predictably emotive – a dreamy, feedback-drenched ode to unrequited love, while old favourites Raised Ranch Revolution and No-one Ever Told Me are, to this late 90’s indie geek at least, glorious, electrifying alt-country masterclasses.
They may never trouble the charts, or even the playlists of XFM or its ilk again, but tonight sees a band doing that most difficult of things – returning after a long hiatus as if they’d never been away. And for that, at least, they should be saluted.