Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Polly and the Billets Doux / Adelaide’s Cape / Dan Whitehouse @ The Hare and Hounds, Monday 5th July 2010

There’s something about intimate gigs that really appeals to me. Whilst some people love being part of a crowd of 20,000 in a stadium I can think of nothing worse. So tonight’s show, in the cosy setting of the Hare and Hounds smaller upstairs venue (for the uninitiated the Hare and Hounds is a cool boozer in the Birmingham suburb of Kings Heath), was right up my street. Thanks to the wonders of West Midlands Travel (and an early kick off) we arrived as opener Dan Whitehouse was in full flow. A fine singer / songwriter with a refreshingly modest air and some really strong songs I’ve seen Dan several times recently and he never puts in less than 100%. Despite a ‘select’ crowd tonight was no different and the emotional intensity that’s a key part of his performance was as much in evidence as ever. ‘Somewhere I Don’t Want To Go’ (one of his best songs to date) was particularly striking this evening. Total belief in your lyrics...every single syllable...is what it’s all about when it comes to a convincing performance and that’s just what you get with Dan. I had the pleasure of a brief chat with him afterwards (we’d met before but several years ago) and a nicer, more genuine bloke you couldn’t wish to meet. Trust me, whenever you see his name on a bill you’ll know you won’t be disappointed.

Next up Adelaide’s Cape who’s ‘Last Sleep in Albion’ EP I recently gave the big thumbs up to. Although just 20 years old Sam Taylor (the dude behind the Cape) is blessed with one of those voices that sounds like it belongs to someone who has really lived. In fact I’m pretty sure he could sing the ‘phone book and make it mean something. Almost uncomfortably emotional at times he recalls the vocal fragility of Nick Drake (a slight cracking at the end of some of the words) and the intricate guitar playing of Davy Graham which ain’t a bad package eh? Tonight’s seven song set included a couple of top notch covers of Richard Thompson’s ‘Vincent Black Lightening and Nick Drake’s ‘Black Eyed Dog’, the latter being a particularly brave choice as it’s such an iconic song. Sam embellishes the song beautifully with his dobro (that’s a guitar with a steel resonator...see educational as well as entertaining....I should get a lottery grant or something) whilst still retaining the intensity of the original. Next to such esteemed lyricists Sam’s self penned material stands up really well, notably tonight ‘With This Regret’ and ‘Anchored Down’ were particular highlights.

Last up Polly and the Billets Doux. That’s French for love letter isn’t it? Dead cultured me. Whipping up an instantly infectious mix of jazz, rockabilly, rock n’roll and blues Polly and co are as much fun as you can have on Monday night with your clothes on (and I’ve had some pretty funky Monday nights let me tell you). From the deep south Bayoux shuffler of 'Head of Steam' through to the rockabilly call and response of ‘Follow My Feet’ the whole set oozed retro cool. Polly's blessed with a beautiful, adaptable vocal, capable of belting it out when she needs to or keeping it sultry and smoky on some of the slower numbers. Taking a delightfully informal approach to the whole show thing (tonight this included making up the set list as they went along and chatting to the audience) it felt more like sitting round with your mates than a formal gig. And that, for me, is a very special thing. Equally delightfully, just when you think you’ve got the band pigeonholed as one thing, they go and do something different. Witness Polly’s impromptu cover of Pump Up The Jam (she also does Mr Boombastic and House Of Pain apparently) and Dan and Steeny’s cover of a track called ‘Silver and Gold’. Tonight's gig was simply a joy to watch, listen to and be part of. ‘Doux’ go and see them if you get the chance.

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