Rapidly becoming something of a Christmas institution here in Birmingham Goodnight Lenin’s festive shows are as much of a sign that Santa’s on his way as Noddy Holder yelling “Itttttt’ssss Chrissssstmassssss!!!!!” down your ear ‘ole. Clearly the word’s got around too as tonight’s gig was sold out a while back and with a small but perfectly formed section of the Cathedral’s choir warming the cockles with a selection of Christmas hymns the place was packed to the pews in time for opener Dan Whitechristmas...whoops...sorry...getting carried away with the season there...Dan Whitehouse.
Dan’s been wowing audiences around these parts since before ickle baby Jesus was a twinkle in Mary’s eye. It seems that way at least and he continues to impress with a fine set of self penned songs and an emotionally open performance that filled the cavernous cathedral beautifully. In fact it’s arguably the perfect venue for his soaring vocals and hymns to love, loss, and longing. Set highlights The Fire Of Lust (“And it burns like a bastard my friend”) part Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, part David McWilliams’ Days Of Pearly Spencer and My Heart Doesn’t Age, inspired by chats with his Gran showcase Whitehouse at his best, a darn fine chronicler of that tricky blighter...the human condition.
How long’s it been since Goodnight Lenin’s first show? Three years or so? Since then they’ve played Glasto a couple of times, toured like troopers, released some beautiful EPs and honed an album’s worth of material that’s just been recorded with legendary producer John Wood (the dude behind Nick Drake’s seminal releases). Not too shabby eh?
Tonight was a celebration of all they’ve achieved so far. Having had the pleasure of seeing them perform a dozen or so times it’s now relatively easy to distil what makes them such a great band. Lyrically there’s the kind of ‘old head on young shoulders’ wisdom that marked out Neil Young (who’s openly acknowledged as a real influence) as such a talent way back in the day, with many of their best songs focusing on the passing of time...something which you’d expect to be a million miles away from the thoughts of a bunch of guys in their early 20s.
Then there are those spine tingling three part harmonies between John, John Joe and Liam (with the occasional addition of the deeper voiced bassist Matt...I’d still like to hear more of this), showcasing the kind of connectivity that only comes from years of singing, drinking and living together.
There’s always some great self deprecating banter too, which lifts the mood between the more sombre numbers, shedding light and laugher where, just a few moments before there were tears. “Thanks for coming along tonight, it shows that 5 talentless shits from Northfield can do something!” reflected Liam after one of their strongest tracks, Edward Colby, one man’s life brilliantly summed up in song.
It’s a neat bit of ying and yang, reinforced by the moments when the band rock out...which they did tonight in spectacular fashion. Drummer Sam was on fire tonight (fireman Sam you could say...oh dear...forgive me...) making full use of the venue’s wonderful acoustics to beat the bejesus out his kit when the moments called for it.
Highlights spilled out of the set like Christmas pressies from a sack with a beautiful acapella mash up of Ballad Of A Leaving Man and Wenceslas Square which suddenly exploded in all its full on amplified glory. This was swiftly followed by new track, Repetition, another of the Lenin’s more reflective numbers this time looking at mind numbing working weeks in an office, stretching away as far as the mind can imagine. Don’t do it kids! Join a band instead! Or win the lottery. Either will do.
The addition of Hannah (pictured above in the background with John Joe) and Kate to tonight’s line up also proved to be a real treat, making the string parts infinitely more orchestral and much richer, the musical equivalent of adding a generous glug of brandy to a Christmas pud. Ode To Rebellion in particular really benefited from this added firepower, edging it closer to something more symphonic and earning one of the biggest cheers of the night. Another new song, New Electric, again seemed to flesh out the Lenin sound a little more, with a naggingly insistent opening keyboard motif giving way to another full on rock out. Lenin’s Horse With No Name? Could be.
Closing with the suitably seasonal A Winter’s Night (the title track of the band’s current EP) – “It’s like Slade with minor chords” quipped Liam – capped off another magical Lenin Christmas show.
Who knows, with the right roll of the dice next year and the success the album deserves, it may even be the last time they’ll play here. The LG Arena just won’t be the same though eh?
Pictures courtesy of the lovely Shakeypix aka Richard Shakespeare