Monday, December 05, 2011

Goodnight Lenin / Paul Murphy @ Birmingham Cathedral, Saturday 3rd December

Ho ho ho Merry Christmas...what’s Santa got in his sack?’s Paul Murphy and Goodnight Lenin! Ho ho ho! Yes, it’s that time of the year again, time for the second annual Goodnight Lenin Christmas gig thingy, this year held in the rather lovely Birmingham Cathedral, duly decked out for the festive season with all the good taste you’d expect from the big man and his disciples.

First up Mr Paul Murphy, front dude for The Destroyers and all round local legend. I’ve only ever seen him in full on whirling dervish mode so the fact that he came on and sat down to play took a minute or two to get used to, I kept expecting him to leap up at any moment, kick off his shoes and vault over the pulpit cackling like Beelzebub. Whilst tonight was a much more chilled out affair it gave you the chance to bathe in that voice of his, the vocal equivalent of a 40 year old single malt. A warm, rich thing mellowed out by the years, he could sing a Christmas shopping list and make it sound strangely beautiful. Happily he’s got a better way with words than that and tracks from his new solo album, The Glen, cast a rather beautiful spell over the capacity crowd.

Shoplifters Blues, a humorous tale of Paul’s attempt to nick a Fray Benthos pie, raised a chuckle and a solo run through There’s a Hole In The Universe (a track more usually played with The Destroyers) ended a surprisingly intimate little set, no mean feat in a cavernous Cathedral. Anyone missing the full on Murphy experience though can dance their legs to bloodied stumps at The Destroyers gig at Birmingham Town Hall on the 10th December.

After a series of successful festival dates (including Glasto of course), an EP release and a memorable sell out show at the MAC in July it’s certainly been a good year for the Lenin. Tonight’s set clearly benefited from all this live experience with everyone playing with just that little extra bit of polish. Avid Lenin watchers were in for a real treat with a particularly poignant rendition of After All We Never Changed Too Much kicking things off, after a little bit of the legendary band banter that provides a neat counterpoint to many of the emotionally charged songs of course. Emotionally charged? Oh yeah. Take new song Laughter From a Younger Age with its line about “shrapnel from your shattered heart” for instance. There’s a world weariness to a lot of the band’s material that belies their youth and, like one of their heroes, Neil Young, who wrote the distinctly ‘battered by life’ anthem Heart Of Gold in his mid 20’s there’s a maturity to the writing that’s as hard to find as the object of Mr Young’s seemingly fruitless search.

Edward Colby, the best song never written by Simon & Garfunkel, is another fine example of this ability to sum up complex emotions...or entire lives in this case... in a simple but devastatingly effective song. Even if you’re not religious (and I’m as atheist as they come) the setting and delivery of this track this evening combined to create something quite beautiful. Want something with a bit more grrrrrrrrrr? Ode To Rebellion really grew some cojanes tonight, with some particularly meaty guitar solos and rock solid staccato drumming (from the newly moustachioed Sam...nice work there fella). Of course you can’t play a Christmas gig without a Christmas song and happily the band has one, sort of...well it’s got the word Wenceslas in the title (Wenceslas Square) and that’s good enough for me. Having watched the band for a couple of years now personal favourite tracks change over time, but one’s stayed the distance though. Old Cold Hands is arguably their best song to date and tonight the trio of John, John Joe and Liam sang the pants off it.

Fell’s “relentlessly nothing” line is a real killer (cop a listen and hear what I mean) and you’d have to have a heart of stone (nope, not gold this time) not to feel more than a twinge of gut wrenching emotion. Things ended on a lively high though with the upbeat pew shaker Glory Be and, if there is a God, I reckon he’d have been shaking his beard and tapping his sandals like a good ‘un. I hear he likes a bit of dubstep too, him and the Angel Gabriel can often be seen mashing it up...

So, what’s next for Northfield’s finest? Hopefully an album. They’ve got the songs, they’ve got the live experience to do ‘em justice and now there’s a growing fanbase (tonight’s gig looked like another sell out) to snap it up. Put it all together and a cracking night like this one could well lead to an even greater year for them.

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