Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Staves: Gig Review - Tabernacle, London

Here's a problem that occurred to me while watching The Staves last night: How do singers convey a story of loss and betrayal when they're part of a vocal harmony group?

Heartbreak is an intensely personal, lonely experience. But harmony by definition means co-operation and unity. If three people are singing in unison about emotional torment - and The Staves have a song that goes, "Everyone I know is gone, and I don't even know myself" - doesn't that dilute the impact?

Not always, as it turns out.

Bands like Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver (who The Staves tour with next month) use complex harmonies to establish a mood, but I'm often unmoved by their lyrical content. The Staves do it differently. They never embellish their melodies, dropping down to a lone voice for the most intimate moments. When the sisters sing "I'm not the best at moving on", during Icarus, it has an exquisitely mournful quality.

In between the songs, however, Emily, Jessica and Camilla are disarmingly funny. "So, has anyone here been mis-sold PPI?" asks Emily (at 29, the eldest sibling) apropos of nothing, while her sisters tune up their guitars. Later, Jessica pulls a Frank Spencer impersonation out of thin air: "Ooooh," she quivers, as the rest of the band collapse in hysterics, "I've had a bit of trouble".

You'd never get this from Laura Marling.

If I had a criticism at all, it's that too many of the songs hover around the same tempo. There's very little variance in the set before the end, when Wisely And Slow bursts into life, finally giving the drummer something to do.

The band even admit their bass guitarist Douglas fell asleep mid-concert a couple of nights ago. But the audience at The Tabernacle show no signs of nodding off. Songs new and old get an enthusiastic reception and there's a (rare for London) pin-drop silence during the quiet bits. Which is quite a feat when 95% of the gig is quiet bits.

The Staves are due to release their debut album in the summer. If you get the chance to see them before everyone else catches on, I thoroughly recommend it.

The Staves - Mexico

The Staves - Winter Trees

Gone Tomorrow
Facing West
Pay Us No Mind
Tongue Behind My Teeth
Wisely and Slow
Winter Trees

DBG (with Christof)
In The Long Run

Photos courtesy of PA Hudson, via Flickr, under a Creative Commons licence.

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