Friday, April 18, 2014

Goodnight Lenin / Dan Whitehouse @ Prince Of Wales, Thursday 17th April 2014

At last, after a gestation period that makes the average Elephant birth seem a tad premature (apparently it takes around 2 years between getting jiggy and wetting the baby’s trunk...who’d be a lady elephant eh?) this year will finally see the release of Goodnight Lenin’s debut album. Definitely. 100%. No question at all. Hurrah! To prove they can deliver the goods against the clock a few weeks back they set themselves the challenge of recording, mixing and mastering a single for Record Store Day in just one mammoth 24 hour session. The resulting recording, just 24 copies of which have been pressed, will be sold on Record Store day itself, this Saturday 19th April (hence the timing of this gig I guess).

Tonight’s all about the live stuff though and first up a firm favourite on the local scene Dan Whitehouse. I’ve been lucky enough to have seen singer/songwriter Dan oodles of times over the years in various different incarnations (from solo acoustic through to being backed by a full band) and his combination of heartfelt lyrics on love, loss and everything in between coupled with a gentle warming vocal delivery never fails to impress. This evening was no exception, in fact in footballing terms he played a blinder, much against the odds as well as the power cut out after just a number or two and, rather than stand there looking embarrassed, he just got on with it and strode to the front of the stage and played unplugged, leading the crowd in a “Oooooh Oooooh Oooooh” singalong. What a trooper. Playing tracks from his new album, Reaching For A State of Mind (pick of the bunch being the hauntingly beautiful waltz of regret that is Why Don’t We Dance?), plus some old favourites including a sublime Somebody Loves You (which once again moved at least one audience member to tears) the whole thing was a treat from start to finish. 

Critical acclaim hasn’t been in short supply over the years and he’s toured with some pretty impressive names (Willy Mason, Julian Cope, Peter Green and World Party to name just a few) but he’s yet to make that big break he deserves. In the meantime you’ve still got the chance to enjoy him up close and personal. Make the most of it.

The place was pretty rammed by the time Goodnight Lenin took to the stage kicking off with the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young classic anthem to freedom, being yourself and sticking it to da  man (hell yeah!), Almost Cut My Hair (one of the two tracks Goodnight Lenin recorded for their Record Store Day release). Wow. Covering a song’s always a bit of a gamble but, having listened to a fair few versions by the originators, Lenin’s interpretation is right up there with the best. There’s a richness and depth to it (kudos in particular to John Joe on keyboards and Sam on drums) that sets the lyrics up in a widescreen landscape whilst still capturing the, let’s face it, “Fuck you World” of the original version. In fact, in Fell’s delivery this evening there was perhaps a little more of that in there, an edge to the vocal that bordered on the slightly (only slightly mind you) menacing.  

Of course the danger of kicking off a set with a cover is the risk that the band’s own material won’t quite make the grade in comparison, but that simply isn’t the case. Take one of tonight’s standout tracks Heart Of Gold (the Goodnight Lenin one) for instance. Sure it shares the same title as one of Neil Young’s best loved songs but it’s also every bit as gentle, fragile and yearning as its namesake. High praise indeed but justified. In fact it’s particularly telling this evening just how many of Goodnight Lenin’s tracks already have that classic feel, being greeted like old friends by the crowd (those that were listening that is...on more than one occasion various members of the Lenin had to request a little hush...quite why you’d spunk £10 on a ticket to see a band and then stand chatting to your mates is beyond me but it’s a questions I’ve been wrestling with for nearly a quarter of a century now so I guess I’ll never know the answer).

On top of Heart Of Gold, the weary, resigned heartbreak of A Cautionary Tale and the fiddle powered folk rock of Ode To Rebellion (which got the biggest whoop of the night) already feel like part of our musical heritage. 

There were plenty of new tracks though, some as mellow as a Sunday morning (Break Into A Heart?) but one or two that revelled rather gloriously in the band’s rockier side, perhaps first truly unveiled during their gig at The Old Rep last June.  I have no idea what these songs were called (hell, maybe the band don’t know yet) but there’s more of a free flowing feel, experimental feel to them embracing groovy bass (from ace of bass Matt), organ sounds, bow melting fiddle (both courtesy of John Joe...the new hardest working man in show business?) and screaming guitars that seguewayed neatly into another Lenin classic, Old Cold Hands perhaps the best example of the band’s emotionally potent three part (Liam, John and John Joe) harmonies tonight. God this song gets me every time...”It’s hard to realise that there is relentlessly nothing...” intoned Fell as a cascade of sound collapsed around him. Amen to that.

After some big news about the album (it’s coming out in November...honestly...) appropriately enough the set ended with the other track recorded for Record Store Day, a fine cover of the Neil Young penned Helpless (which makes a pretty good companion piece for Old Cold Hands when you think about it).
As ever the gig itself was sprinkled with the odd bit of legendary Lenin banter and wit plus a revealing insight into John Fell’s toe fetish (we’ll save that for the band’s biography when they’re all rich and famous). Most of all though it underlined (as if we needed reminding) just what a great group we’ve got here, lyrically, musically and, perhaps just as importantly, a ruddy nice bunch too. Yet another great night Lenin.

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