First Aid Kit – Live

with Peggy Sue & Meg Baird
The Garage, London
13.07.2010

Wichita Recordings have covered a lot of ground in the last ten years. Wichita is the colourful phoenix that flew out for the ashes of Creation Records, guided a lovely bearded Welshman that was partly responsible for the signing of some the 90s most incredible acts. Though they began with releasing some of my favourite albums of the decade (Bright Eyes’ ‘Fevers and Mirrors’ and Bloc Party’s ‘Silent Alarm’), it was Dick and Mark’s discovery of two girls from Sweden with stunning voices and an inexplicable talent for melody making, First Aid Kit, that made me actively fly the Wichita flag.

There wasn’t any other choice for who was to headline the ‘folking excellent’ Tueday night in their string of celebrations for the record label’s tenth birthday. New Jersey’s Meg Baird was tremendous and continued to draw attention from NJ’s sore shore rep and point us in the direction of the spectacular and pleasantly haunting music that emerges from the garden state. The folk or ‘anti-soul’ revival was in full-force when Peggy Sue mounted the stage in front of a now-rammed Garage. These were two brilliant sets, but First Aid Kit made me cease to function properly like jeeping shit.

First Aid Kit burst onto the web with an acoustic cover of Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song‘ in a nearby forest that can only be described as the loveliest viral video ever created. Since then they’ve released an equally lovely EP and a stunning debut that was matched by one of the most heart-warming, awe-filling live performances I’ve seen in some time at Wichita’s birthday feast of folk. They open with ‘Tangerine’, a gentle world-weary and refreshing blowback of Cat Power smoke which lingers like a surprisingly pretty moth as they power into the delicately perfect ‘You’re Not Coming Home Tonight’. They are utterly unaware of their flawlessness and play to us almost as if they we were peer pressured into playing the lonely looking guitar that’s placed against the wall of their bedroom. The Garage isn’t a large venue but it certainly isn’t small, and to render the entire crowd fully silent during an entirely unplugged rendition of ‘Ghost Town‘ speaks volumes about their natural talent that doesn’t require any further lexical amplification.

Of course their Fleet Foxes’ cover proved favourable with a perpetually beaming crowd but the highlight was a foot-stomping march through melody and powerful choruses in ‘Own Our Pretty Ways‘. They’ve come a long way from recording inconspicuous videos in forests and regardless of their admirable ‘aim for the hearts, not for the charts!’ motto, could very easily win the love from both.

Stanley

Vessels – Live

with These Monsters
Lexington, London
12.07.10

Despite liking my fair share of post-rock, it’s a genre that has a lot of very boring bands. While the Explosions in the Sky template of long songs with big climaxes might have been exciting once upon a time, the huge numbers of bands offering only slight variations on this formula leave much to be desired. Although some of these bands are noticeably better than others, there’s only so much excitement I can gain from another nine minutes of tremolo picking concluding in another swirling crescendo climax.

Thankfully tonight’s bill is free of any such predictability. I have to say, when Leeds’ These Monsters appear on stage wielding a saxophone I begin to fear the worst, yet somehow they manage to break one of rock music’s golden rules and are great in spite of it. There’s something about the overdriven guitars and jazzy brass that doesn’t sit well together, but These Monsters’ sax player overcomes this by screaming into the instruments mouth. It’s a short and engaging set that while difficult to pigeonhole, avoids sounding like a mish mash of disjointed ideas.

Next up are headline band Vessels, who are a breath of fresh air in terms of post-rock; writing songs with strong composition, varied song structures and excellent all-round musicianship. Stripped down slightly since I last saw them (now with just the one drum kit on stage), the band are back with a set of all new material which the crowd are only too happy to feast on. Fans of 2008’s White Fields and Open Devices shouldn’t be disappointed, as Vessels retain their knack for creating music as intricate as it can be vast. Even as band members swap around instruments at will, they appear air tight working their way around complex riffs and arrangements.

As well as streamlining their percussion, the band has also removed the few vocals that littered the band’s debut. This seems a sensible and positive move, as I’m sure the band would admit they have no great vocalist among their ranks and are much better off sticking to their instruments. While this might reduce any crossover potential the band might have had, by focussing their sound they stand more of a chance of being aligned with the likes of Mogwai, who carry the torch for post-rock success in the UK. If any band deserves to follow in their footsteps, then Vessels have made a very good case tonight.

Sleekly Lion