Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Irrepressibles / Jo Hamilton / Thomas Truax @ St Martin’s Church, Wednesday 10th November 2010

There seems to be a bit of a vogue for gigs in Birmingham churches at the moment. St Paul’s has had a few this year and now St Martin’s is getting in on the act too. It’s a cracking idea. They’re generally gorgeous buildings, perhaps somewhat underused in these more secular times and the acoustics can Tonight we’re here to worship at the altar of St Jamie McDermott, the frankly inspirational life force behind The Irrepressibles, a chamber pop band that’s currently wowing our European neighbours but still seem to be criminally underrated here in their homeland. C’est la vie. Given that this is their first UK tour though (and this is a band that you really need to see live) perhaps all that is about to change.

First up though a couple of worthy support artists, kicking off with the self styled “Heath Robinson of music” Mr Thomas Truax. Seemingly springing from the same post Millennial New York scene that gave us Jeffrey Lewis, Thomas’s USP are his range of bizzaro instruments that he fashions out of bits of other stuff. Tonight we were treated to the Hornicator (part of a tuba, with a mic and strings across the open end) and ‘Mother Superior’ (a self powered percussion unit made out of old bicycle wheels, a tambourine and a bit of trumpet). He wore something else on his back that looked a little like a UFO...goodness knows what the heck that was made out of...probably a real UFO given the unworldly noise it made. I particularly liked his approach to guitar playing too, using a handheld fan to do the plucking for him leaving his other hand free to glide up and down the neck. Genius. Against all this (surprisingly tuneful) cacophony Thomas spins Lynchian tales of giant talking butterflies and moonlit parties in his imaginary home of Wowtown. Kicking off with the voodoo blues of ‘Prove It To My Daughter’ he spent the next half hour or so delivering a set that fizzed with inventiveness, at one point leaving the stage to wander round the church itself, singing as he went. At the end of it all the lights dimmed and he donned a pair of glasses with lenses that lit up and span round to illustrate a charming ditty by the name of ‘Beehive Heart’, a Hornicator heavy slice of madness that sounded a little like Beck after an acid trip. A true-ax original.

It can’t be easy following that but Jo Hamilton’s voice (compared to the likes of KD Lang and Bjork) more than made up for the lack of mutant instruments from outer space. Having said that she did unveil the Airpiano, which is (in the words of the inventor) “a new musical interface which allows playing and controlling software instruments simply by moving hands in the air”.

Very impressive it looked too, imagine a cross between a theramin and an ironing board and you won’t be far off. Jo’s been a regular on the Birmingham scene for a number of years now and seems to be getting some rave reviews further afield too. Judging by the spine tingling ‘Alive, Alive’, with its sparse, fractured shards of electronic bleeps creating the perfect backdrop for Jo’s haunting vocals, they’re more than justified.

Last up, The Irrepressibles. It actually seems a little bit wrong to review this gig. It’s like reporting on a lover, the intimacy, feelings and atmosphere created tonight can’t be replicated in words alone. But, for the sake of having some writing to go with the pretty pictures, I’ll try. Berlin cabaret, burlesque and jazz clubs; discos, ‘Frisco and gilded ballrooms; comedy and tragedy, love, loss and longing all collide in an orchestral whirlwind that’s one of the most extraordinary shows I’ve seen in over 20 years of gig going. At the back of the stage is a wraparound 180 degree wall of mirrors, within which stands Jamie. Lit (for most of the set) with candles and subdued spotlights these enable you to see him from all angles...a neat (and highly appropriate) visual trick that reinforces the openness and honesty that’s at the heart of his lyrics. The album that the band’s currently touring, ‘Mirror, Mirror’ takes in all sorts of raw emotions, from unrequited love to suicide. What rescues it all from Morrissey bound misery are Jamie’s voice (a truly angelic concoction with shades of Anthony, Jeff Buckley, Baby Dee and Kate Bush), lush instrumentation and the simple (but devastatingly) effective choreography that saw the nine piece band rise, fall and sway in time with the music, perhaps reflecting the waves that Jamie so often stood and watched in his hometown of Scarborough.

From the moment the set began, with the lights dimming in time with Jamie’s breath, to the second the last note drifted off high into the heavens I was enraptured. It’s as simple as that. The whole show was a highlight but, for pure heart melting beauty, ‘Forget The Past’ will remain one of the greatest performances I have ever...and will ever...see. I could go through each track the band played, I could wax lyrical about the strings or ponder the tremble in Jamie’s voice that packs more emotion in a single word than most singers manage in a lifetime, but, like I said at the start of this piece, that just seems wrong. Just go see...and for yourself.

The Irrepressibles aren’t just a great band. This wasn’t just an amazing gig. Nights like this are what make life worth living. In a world of increasing ugliness The Irrepressibles are a spark of beauty, a reminder that there is something far more important than banks, governments, wars, money or any of the other bullshit we're all subjected to on a daily basis. Give them your heart and they won't let you down.

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