Club UNCUT: Jana Hunter, Phosphorescent
About three songs in to her set, Jana Hunter peers over the rims of her glasses, squints at the audience and asks: "Is there someone here called Neil that I know from Panama?"
It would, of course, be wonderful to think folks had crossed continents and time zones to be here for this, the second night of Club Uncut's monthly residency at London's Borderline. We will, though, happily make do with the crowd we’ve got, wherever they’re from – the venue is packed, people standing on the stairs to get a glimpse of Hunter and tonight’s co-headliner, Phosphorescent, an intense hush in the room, everything pin-drop quiet.
Watching Hunter and Phosphorescent – tonight, just the band’s Georgia-born mainman, Matthew Houck – makes me think of a point where American indie cinema meets alt.rock. I know we live in these enlightened times where the Juno soundtrack tops the Billboard charts and Kimya Dawson now graces the stereo at fashionable dinner parties around the world, but I can’t shake the image from my head of Thora Birch in Ghost World whenever I look at Hunter, in her t-shirt, baseball cap and geeky glasses. Houck, for his part, writes the kind of scuffed, lo-fi folk you would expect to hear on the soundtrack for a film that plays at the Sundance Film Festival, of non-existent budget and possibly featuring a cameo from Steve Buscemi.
Hunter, who’s recorded principally for Devenda Banhart’s Gnomosong label, is a beguiling songwriter, and tonight she delivers a charming set of home-spun folk songs. I can’t find any immediate connection with the kind of whimsical freak folkery of Banhart; her songs have something of a pleasingly uncomplicated, backwoods vibe to them.
Similarly, there’s something very rootsy about Houck’s music. His voice reminds me, principally, of Will Oldham, and “Ohio River Boat Song” pops into my mind on several occasions. Things do, however, turn a sharp left when he covers Dire Straits’ “So Far Away From Me” in a squall of feedback, bringing to mind Dinosaur Jr’s reading of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”, mostly, I guess, because Houck’s voice suddenly assumes a Mascis-like whine, like a wounded bloodhound howling in a back alley at midnight.
It is, safe to say, something of a highlight.
Anyway, we'll be back next month. Keep an eye out for announcements as to who's on the bill.