gig - PREVIEW
– The SCALA, Kings X 22/10/01
It’s here. The day arrives
and we head for the station bar on King’s Cross armed with our onions. These
have already proved useful as I have swapped chutney recipes on the tube with a
young lady who, for some reason, was bemused by such blatant vegetable flauntage.
But they served their purpose in the bar making us identifiable to those who
were meeting there for a pre-gig snifter (at which point I must say hello to
Hannah, Chris and Ian who met me and Phil there).
We deposited our onions on the stage before Witness came on and watched an excellent performance by Delta. I’m not going to pretend to know any of their songs but I do know they made an excellent noise. I expect it was shyness on the crowds’ part that led to the lack of dancing. My excuse? I was talking crap to a certain Mr. Starkie as he watched them or otherwise looking at him as other people talked crap to him. I’m 26 you know?! Anyway, at some unspecified point in the evening the boys take to the stage and Gerard holds up the onion that Phil had just given to him; “someone’s just given me an onion!” No kidding – and then he gives us a rousing rendition of “Here’s One For You”, the song from American Pie 2. If you haven’t heard this live then you’ve missed something very special, unlike the film (I’m guessing here but just put the song on at home, give me a ring and I’ll tell you a few well-worn knob jokes. Arf.). This is a brilliant way to start a gig and it soon becomes apparent that we are not going to be let down tonight. “Till the Morning” is next and its stepped down a gear, the air harmonica comes out amongst some crowd members who are evidently enjoying this as much as the band obviously are. We’re loving it. Now that the songs from “Under A Sun” have been absorbed into the brain stream it is good to hear their live interpretations – the title track thereof is next and is followed by “My Boat” and for now the stage is Witness’ boat and the sea of faces in the Scala are happy to be part of this voyage, riding the oceanic swell of the chorus which hints towards stormy waters and invokes dodgy analogies in at least one audient. “So Far Gone” is the first song tonight taken from Before the Calm and sounds as fresh as ever. It was almost spooky, definitely helped by some sonic wizardry that, from what I gathered was coming from Julian’s corner. Such mastery of keys is our gain and the loss of the lock-smith profession. And what would this song be without that bass-line? I bet the people by the bass-bin had spleen-ache in the morning. “Avalanche” was very cool but even a fucked up mountain couldn’t prepare you for “You Are All My Own Invention”. Polite moshing anyone? Ok, just me then…but it was awesome. It was as if someone had replaced the ground in front of the stage with a trampoline. Boing. After the exertions of that came “Still”, delivered as carefully and lovingly as a baby. I was moved to wave an onion in the air (who keeps nicking all the lighters? Stop it!), everyone – on and off stage seemed moved also. Some people on our left were agog, enraptured. I didn’t see if anyone else was because I was similarly bewitched. If Michaelangelo had transcribed the painting from the roof of the Cistine Chapel onto an onion skin then it would have sounded like this. Talking of bulbously pungent vegetables, Gerard enquired why it was that people would throw underwear at Tom Jones while they got onions. It’s because Tom Jones is pants and you, matey, could jerk a tear from the most stoic eye with songs that beautiful. To close the set with “Pushchair” was a masterstroke after the reflective clam of “Still”. The crowd were forced to go mental again so, psychiatrists on standby, every freaked out scrambled mess in the audience got it together to get down. Pushchair’s my personal favourite song from Under A Sun and after tonight one of my favourite live songs as well. It was powerful, it was perfect, a high on which to finish the concert. The only downside was that Phil and I could not even stay on afterwards to see Grand Drive, who I would have loved to have seen and who do grace my record collection. But it would have been foolhardy not to leave on “Pushchair” – almost as daft as leaving in a Pushchair, what with all those stairs…
Mon 22 Oct 2001
GRAND DRIVE / WITNESS - THE SCALA, LONDON
Taking two of Britain's most critically acclaimed but commercially
unsuccessful bands and putting them together on a bill is a great idea in
principle. Fans of Witness, for example, might fall in love with Grand
Drive's take on the wide, epic plains of country rock. Conversely, lovers of
the Wilson brothers' tight harmonies may see something in the windswept,
spectral musings of Witness.
That was evidently the plan, but both bands only offered fitful examples of
why they should be revered. Witness have carried the burden of being branded
the "next big thing" for a few years now but have seen their star eclipsed
by the likes of Coldplay and Starsailor, who offer hook-heavy variations of
their Buckley and Drake themes.
Tonight, the likes of 'Til The Morning' and 'Avalanche' occasionally soar
but are hampered by a sound mix that leaves vocalist Gerard Starkie gamely
trying to be heard over the instruments. Guitarist Ray Chan pulls out some
beautiful passages but there isn't enough variation of melody and texture in
their songs to truly bring the house down. Their cult status seems likely to
Grand Drive offer up an even more one-dimensional platter. Admittedly, their
harmony-soaked country rock, often propelled by a booming Hammond,
occasionally hits the heights but a whole set leads to an acute feeling of
deja vu as one slick song of southbound trains and endless miles follows
It's the slower material that leaves the impression, with 'My Best Side' and
'Undone' possessing a refined elegance that allows the vocals to really pull
no punches in the heartstring-tugging stakes. Unfortunately, these are brief
respites and the end of their set comes as a noticeable relief to many.
Both Grand Drive and Witness may be accomplished in their own fields, but on
this showing they still need to widen their horizons further and make more
music that matches the vision of its originators. Only then will their
promise be fully realised.
Simon P Ward
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