Live review

Cornershop, Lissie, Trembling Bells, Ganglians: Club Uncut @ The Great Escape, May 16 2010

Cornershop finished Club Uncut’s final night in Brighton with a set of psychedelic mantras and gorgeous pop, topping the best bill so far.

Lissie’s spirited country pop kicked things off. More downhome onstage than the diva Sony are marketing her as, her songs are heartfelt if a little hokey, typical mainstream country. Ellie Goulding is a surprise guest, leading to an unfortunate foghorn duet. But when she says, “I was a troublemaker in high school,” you believe her. She rides her guitarist’s ‘70s hard rock riffs like a real bar-room singer, and covers “Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)”, fellow Illinois musician Kid Cudi’s tale of Midwest alienation and “driving drunk on Judgement Day”, like she’s lived it.

Dropping her guitar to tear at her hair at the end is a theatrical try at grunge loserdom. But the joint’s already jumping.

Trembling Bells’ singer Lavinia Blackwall looks the part of some forgotten folk-rock darling in her tie-dyed dress, and sings with pure authority and vaulting range at odds with her painful diffidence between songs. She’s Joan Baez one minute, Grace Slick the next, while the band reference Thin Lizzy, early ‘70s Dylan and Wings over Celtic-edged, galloping West Coast grooves. They barely move a muscle, but drive their music on with dramatic conviction.

“I touched your shoulder and I held my breath,” Blackwall sings, and such sensual, Romantic shivers alternate with what drummer Alex Nielsen calls the more “Rock Me Amadeus” moments of their laidback attack.

I first see Ganglians at their merchandising stall, inspecting the vinyl discs of their own album like holy relics. This is the Californians’ first gig outside the US. When a gizmo vital to their reverb-drenched stoner sound malfunctions, a roll of Sellotape is the charmingly antique solution. They look like they’re stitching together some 1905 biplane, the singer’s uber-hippie flowing locks confirming they’re a band proudly out of time. The drummer roots their fuzzed guitar mantras with a clipped “Roadrunner” beat, and the high vocals recall a more abstract, less hymnal Fleet Foxes.

The last time I saw Cornershop in Brighton, “Brimful of Asha” was high in the charts, and Tjinder Singh looked like a rabbit staring down an oncoming juggernaut, a stage the last place he wanted to be. He looks exactly the same tonight. But the brief, unwelcome distraction of stardom is long gone, latest album “Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast”, selected from pretty heavily tonight, confirming them as one of the UK’s finest underground pop bands.

The mid-‘90s organ sound suggests a relation to Saint Etienne’s brand of magpie musical idealism. The Indian-language repatriation of The Beatles’ sitar-heavy “Norwegian Wood” is still a fine, wonderfully played gesture, reminding you of the band’s Morrissey-provoking start.

A rowdy take on Dylan’s “The Mighty Quinn” is even better, followed by “Brimful of Asha”. Like Pulp’s “Common People”, it’s a hit single that captures the band’s virtues, radical and good-hearted. The bloody-minded insistence that they’ll never be limited by such crowd-delighting gems means they actually finish with a static, near-endless groove. The end of Club Uncut’s Brighton trip leaves us all sated.

Review: NICK HASTED


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