The Shipping Forecast
7th November 2013
Throughout a short and relentlessly average career as what you could vaguely call a music journalist, my biggest fear has been turning up to a show, suggesting I was on the guest list and my name wouldn’t be down. Everyone in the queue would snigger and I would practically be boo’d out the venue. That was until tonight though. My biggest fear now is turning up to a show and proceeding to explain to a baffled looking door man that I’m on the guest list for what is, to my surprise, a completely free entry show. People didn’t boo me out or anything, but they were definitely sniggering. ‘Everyone’s on the guest list lad’. Yeah, thanks.
White Cliffs have received praise from some corners of the city, but it’s difficult to not feel self-conscious around songs this dated. I’m sure there was a place for this sort of whiney post grunge at some point, but I am thankfully not old enough to have been there for it. I don’t know, hopefully it’s ironic and I’m just missing the point.
It’s easy to see why London’s Sisters were included on the bill tonight, with guitars scuzzier than the black floor beneath us. They need some serious work on their sound set-up, but with tunes this good put through such a shoegaze filter, there is still plenty to get your ears around.
Big Deal are an entirely new proposition tonight. On their excellent debut Lights Out, the whole boy girl, shared microphone thing was enough to put many people off. For those actually listening though, you’d have noticed that they are a cynical bunch, offsetting anything you’d be tempted to refer to as twee with lyrics dark enough to make you wonder if anyone really likes each other and generally doubt the existence of love at all. I’m exaggerating, but on tracks like Chair, where Alice Costello sings “You just want me for my lungs / You just want me for the songs I write about you”, they transformed that lightweight accompaniment into a disarming fragility, allowing the album to get under your skin before you’ve even had a chance to consider why.
On their sophomore effort June Gloom, Costelloe and Kacey ‘Kc’ Underwood brought in a drummer and turned the guitars up to create a more aggressive and all-together more confident sounding record. Golden Light, with its lazy vocals and woozy chords is an impressive introduction, and certainly quashes any fears that the new line up might be having teething issues. New single Swapping Spit, despite that title, is very moving this evening, with its sepia tinged reflection of romance softened by Costello’s indifferent vocals. In Your Car turns the volume up, allowing Underwood a moment of indulgence with that piercing, power stance inducing lead guitar part. The show spikes with the blithely anthemic Dream Machines, as the band meet each other at those downbeats in scintillating unison. Talk is their only retreat to that debut album, although it is almost recognisable as they race through it in double time behind a 4/4 drum beat. The song still manages to stand up, but it is certainly an indication of a band keen to disassociate themselves from their earlier sound. It is a shame in many ways, as that vulnerability was what elevated much of these songs above their indie-pop frameworks and their many contemporaries. Progression is important though, and the only way forward after an album that self-conscious was bigger. It’s difficult to see what form Big Deal’s troubled tales of romance will take on next. Tonight suggest that however bad it gets, that space between sadness and acceptance will continue to look like the easiest place in the world.