Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Jerusalem / The Last Republic / BabyTwin @ The Flapper, Saturday 15th January 2011

The first gig of the year is always a bit of a struggle. Having consumed my own bodyweight in dead poultry, Bailey’s, Port, crates of chocolate and various sacks of salted snacks it’s frankly a miracle that I’m still alive.

Happily BabyTwin are on hand to ease us back in the saddle. They’ve got a bit of a secret weapon too, in the shape of flautist (and backing vocalist) Becki. I’m always stupidly impressed by any band that dares break free from the constraints of the holy trinity of drums, guitar and keyboards and the flute’s one of those instruments that really tickles my fancy...I guess you can blame Jethro Tull for that one. Much of the Twin’s material is emotional and introspective, with lead singer Joseph putting in a particularly heartfelt performance against a pleasingly soothing acoustic backdrop. The fact that he looked like the kind of dude who might well play in a death metal band (given some of the chord structures I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a ‘rockier’ background) added a nice juxtaposition (yep, I’ve been reading the dictionary on the loo again) between the sweet sounds coming from his mouth and the more rugged image. Grrrrr. A great opening performance from yet another (new to me) impressive local band.

The Last Republic, clearly have their eyes set on stadium glory given their penchant for the slightly bombastic U2 style anthems that I’ve been listening to online. Tonight it was a lot more stripped back though (just the singer and keyboardist) placing more emphasis on the vocals. There’s more than a touch of the Bono’s to the singer’s voice and it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to imagine him belting out this stuff to 100,000 people somewhere. In the more intimate environment of The Flapper’s cellar (and with the stripped back feel) it worked well enough but, having heard the recorded versions of some of these tracks I couldn’t help yearning for the full fat variety from time to time.

Finally My Jerusalem. Nope, not a Christian rock act ( but instead something of a US indie supergroup featuring a bit of the Polyphonic Spree (although to be fair isn’t everyone on planet earth in the Spree?), one of The Twilight Singers and a Great Northern-er amongst others. The group’s fronted by singer / songwriter Jeff Klein...a man blessed with one of those smokey, late night bar kind of voices and a refreshingly world weary perspective. Here to promote their debut album ‘Gone For Good’ My Jerusalem seem to have somehow slipped beneath the radar of the tastemakers over here and, judging by the quality of tonight’s show, they've been criminally underrated up to now. The fightback starts here people. God this was a fucking great performance. Recalling Eels at their best, with a dash of Gram Parsons, a slice of Dennis Wilson and a scattering of lush orchestration it’s a brilliant but subtle fusing of genres that only musicians at the top of their game could really pull off this well. Take the second number of the night, ‘Sweet Chariot’, the one that that probably showcases My Jerusalem at their very best. Kicking off with some military style drumming and a slightly melancholy trumpet this rallying call of a track saw Jeff screaming up a storm like a Southern preacher performing a particularly tricky exorcism. Go listen to it now. If it’s not the best thing you’ve heard in ages then I’m Sarah Palin’s g-string. And I’m not. So there.

I thought this was going to be the highlight of the night, but it wasn’t. Track by track Jeff and the band pulled us into their world of hard knocks, broken hearts and unfulfilled dreams. The short but bittersweet ‘Love You When You Leave’ is arguably one of the best anti-love songs ever written, ‘Valley Of Casualties’ takes a well aimed swipe at the self imposed misery most people seem to subject themselves to and ‘Farewell’ is a loping lament to those who’ve passed away but not passed from our memories. There’s a quiet dignity to it all and a ‘kicking against the pricks’ attitude that keeps everything from straying into self pity. It’s a fine line that Jeff and co tread but somehow they get it just right, making the whole night a deeply uplifting experience rather than a lesson in wrist slitting. Wise enough to know how the game goes but honest enough to refuse to play it the set was short on chat except for an explanation that the band would pretend to go offstage so we could whoop and holler for an encore which they would, of course, play. I didn’t need much encouragement. I’m going out on a bit of a limb here...and this might be the first gig of the year...but what the hell, you know what, I really can’t imagine many topping it.


Si said...

Thanks for sharing this review! Off to see them tomorrow in Manchester, been looking forward to this in a while :)

The Baron said...

Hi Si! Hope you enjoyed the Manchester gig as much as enjoyed the Birmingham one. What a great band...