You’d have to say that 2012’s been pretty good to Pete Williams. Deservedly so too. As part of the recently reanimated Dexys he’s shared the pretty much universal praise showered on both the new album and the series of truly heart warming shows that have wowed crowds around the world. And, more importantly as far as tonight’s concerned, he released his debut solo album, SEE, too...after a mere thirty years or so as a performer. It was certainly worth the wait though. Coming hot on the heels of recent support slots for The Proclaimers this latest festive solo gig capped things off nicely.
First up though Daytona Lights who, in a novel pop will eat itself kind of way, seemingly formed a few years ago then chose to join the cast of Channel 4’s teen soap Hollyoaks playing “partially fictionalised versions of themselves” before leaving again to continue pursuing life as a proper real life band. Got that? Good. If all that sounds a little gimmicky relax, they’re actually a cracking live band with a stack of instantly likeable tunes.
Musically there’s a little of that Vampire Weekend style afrobeat in there but with a rockier edge. The endlessly energetic lead singer’s perfected that rock n’roll sneer too, lending the whole thing a little more grrrrr (yep, that’s a technical term) that you might expect given their CV. Never heard of them before but found myself wanting to dig out their album, which is all too rare these days. Judging by new song, Midnight Beach, played live for the first time tonight, they're on a bit of a roll right now too. Ones to watch.
Despite the bone chilling coldness of the night and all the usual insanity of the season Pete and band had pulled in an impressive crowd for which he seemed genuinely grateful, repeatedly thanking us all for making the effort. Okay, sometimes hauling your ass off the sofa to go to a gig is a little bit of a mission, but when you know you’re in for something special even the evils of the number 11 bus (tonight’s treat including a dude arguing with himself in between smoking crack...nothing says festive like a rock of crack eh?) pale into insignificance. Comparisons with Dexys are impossible to avoid so let’s get them out of the way first. Pete was, of course, in Dexys back in the day and has featured in both the 2003 reunion and this current rebirth. There’s a touch of Rowland’s influence to Pete’s vocal...or is it the other way round? Who knows? Who cares? Musically too there’s that classic soul feel, albeit more refined and a little jazzier/funkier in places than in the Searching For The Young Soul Rebels days.
Featuring members of Richard Hawley and Imelda May’s groups Pete's band is a particularly impressive and experienced line up of musicians and they’re as tight as a disgraced banker (but oh so much lovelier) from the very first note of the show’s opening number, the reflective but instantly addictive Reconsider This. At the heart of the whole thing is Pete himself (tonight wearing a rather snazzy white suit...always a snappy dresser) a hugely loveable performer unveiling an exceptionally strong songbook that’s been deftly hewn from life’s various ups and downs...births, marriages, deaths and pretty much everything in between.
There’s some incredibly emotional stuff in there, most notably this evening the poignant tributes to his dad in Are You Listening? and old mate, Jimmy, in the emotional encore Suddenly Shattered and Pete more than does 'em justice with some terrifically testifyin’ vocal deliveries and the odd gloriously theatrical flourish, no doubt inspired by the more vaudevillian version of Dexys that he’s such a huge part of these days. Sure you can sit back and just enjoy the tunes and performance but he’s written some great lines, take the boozer’s regret in Until We Empty Off This Bottle, “You drink from the bottle and the bottle drinks back” for instance or the old(er) man’s lament “where once there burned a flame now there burns an ember”. Powerful stuff.
Between song banter and a deliciously self deprecating wit provided plenty of chuckles too though and like all the very best gigs it just left you...seasonally Oliver Twist-like...wanting more. Let's hope 2013 delivers eh? A true musical gem.