Hope & Anchor, London
Wednesday April 2 2014
There's quite a crowd in the Grope And Wanker's compact basement tonight, and that's not always the way it is.
Legend has it that a neophyte U2, making their first foray onto the London gig circuit, played here to a mere four people.
There are more people on stage right now than in that entire
U2 audience. Sunday Driver are
an amiable six-piece folk pop outfit with
- USP ahoy - a touch of Indian spice artfully sprinkled over their very
English festi-folkie music. It's the musical equivalent of serving up
a samosa in the middle of the cucumber sandwiches.
Their songs are cheery exercises in bomp and sway and jangle, with some twangling sitar and impressive spoon percussion thrown in, while the vocals flit and soar. I can envisage Sunday Driver going down a treat in one of the outlying tents on a sunny afternoon at Glastonbury, their music mingling pleasantly with the smell of cut grass and the mellow light filtering through the canvas.
There's none of that tonight, in this
overstuffed and overheated pub
cellar, but the band's air of easy-going congeniality helps them win through.
The final number - where Sunday Driver kick up a gear and get all
and slightly Pogues-ish - shows the band can get rumbustious with the best
of them when they have a mind to do so. But for the most part their cucumbers
stay cool and the samosas are mildly spiced.
Birdeatsbaby seem entirely at home in basement world, although I dare say they'd probably like a bit more space to stretch their wings.
But the band's after-sunset carnival pop suits this underlit and ramshackle cellar, and for all their good-humoured approachability - joshing with the audience, chatting easily with the front row - you get the impression that the Birds are no strangers to the Long Dark Teatime of the Soul.
There's a certain melancholy to their music, a nod in
the direction of The Bleak, which lurks behind even their most jaunty,
Gilbert and Sullivan-go-new wave songs.
You'll laugh, you'll dance, you'll sing along to Birdseatbaby. But they can do that cold breath on the back of your neck thing, too - often when you least expect it.
The Birdseatbaby show - and it is a show, everyone on stage is a performer as much as a musician - is directed from stage left by the irrepressible Mishkin Fitzgerald (keyboards, vocals, co-ordinated spider themed outfit) who switches easily between sparky good humour between the songs to faintly alarming intensity during them.
She swoops at her keyboard with fingers outstretched as if to grab the songs by the throat, while the band whip up a swirl and clatter of violin, bass and occasional interjections of guitar, all tied together by the constant presence of understated but insistent drums.
The result is a vaudeville romp, but always with that sideways glance into the looming shadows. 'Hands Of Orlac' slinks in with plenty of shimmering violin, but picks up its skirts and turns into a fine old knees-up, with plenty of left-hand action on the piano.
But then 'Ghosts' casts us adrift: it's an interlude of
quietude amid the romping and stomping, a moment of calm amid the band's assorted storms.
Birdeatsbaby handle the dynamics, the ups and downs, the warmth and sudden bursts of coolness of their repertoire with great aplomb, and by the time they hit 'The Bullet' on the nose - it's a lilting Fiery Furnaces-esque thing, all ripples and tumble of piano - they've got the Hope And Anchor neatly stowed in their back pockets. That's how you do it, U2.