And to think that I nearly didn’t go to this show. For shame.
In fairness, I had a decent enough excuse in that I seem to have had a succession of bad colds from around just after Christmas that pretty much only completely cleared up last night. I had my fellow gig-goers’ best health in mind with this, as well as worrying about how what I thought an ambient, neo-classical show would sound with me unblocking my sinuses in the background. As it turned out, quietness was not something I needed to take into consideration. And my minor ailments paled into insignificance anyway, when it transpired that the headliners’ viola player almost wasn’t let into the country, so if they were going to go the extra mile to make the effort to show up, it would have been rude for me to have stayed at home…
Openers Sleepingdog take the stage initially as a duo, and instantly win the early-doors audience over. Chantal Acda’s breathy yet strong vocals and delicate piano playing an equal match with Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie’s guitar that was doing its level best to impersonate the largest church organ you’d ever heard. While they played, the audience were pretty captivated, between songs they were both disarmingly charming, chatting with the audience and amongst themselves. After a while, two more joined them on stage to add a bit of percussion for the latter half of the set, which added further scope to their already rather large, sparse sound. If I had to pick a comparison, I’d have to plump for the lazy man’s choice of Sigur Rós with a more melancholy approach, but that’s really doing them a disservice to describe them as such. Maybe a less obviously folky Lanterns on the Lake then, perhaps? I bought their album on the way out, and really look forward to hearing where they go with this, as it’s a really interesting sound.
I suppose the terms neo-classical and ambient lend themselves a certain air of aloofness, but the various performers in A Winged Victory For The Sullen are anything but: taking to the stage casually-attired and taking up the space at the very front of the stage, this is a collective that wants to involve its audience, albeit one that wasn’t exactly filling the Academy 3 tonight. Something else that I was sort of expecting was a rather restrained, quiet performance – to this philistine mind, that’s what “classical” tends to evoke. Wrong again, for as well as being rather loud throughout, they manipulate sound in such a way as the floor shakes in tune with everyone’s body as certain pitches are hit, held and tweaked to the point of resembling distant (and occasional not-so-distant) thunder.
From the very start, this was an incredibly moving performance, with Adam and Dustin O’Halloran flanking a wonderful string trio of violin, Viola and Cello. While each song was played out, you only had to look at each player’s face to see the emotion that they were channelling through themselves to understand what these instrumentals are conveying. This is especially true during Steep Hills Of Vicodin Tears, a song that is essentially a heartbeat laid bare, all the performers (especially Adam) really putting their whole selves into the song; a strange and moving privilege to watch. The Academy 3′s somewhat sparse lighting really come into its own tonight, with each song given its own colour scheme (for me, somewhat fitting, given my previous synaesthetic dalliances with this record), minimal yet purposeful in its execution.
For a set with few songs, the highlights are still too numerous to mention. The aforementioned Steep Hills… was incredible, as was the epic A Symphony Pathetique and sad Requiem(s) For The Static King. And, for that matter, everything else, including an encore of a new song that had a bit more of a Middle-Eastern feel to it. By their own admission, they only had the one record to play for us, and they played it beautifully. This was one of those evenings where a performance will always be remembered and one where the album it promotes is pushed permanently further up in my estimation. For those who didn’t fill the room tonight, well you missed yet another phenomenally memorable show at my very favourite venue, even if it’s maybe not as grand or ornate as some of the buildings that A Winged Victory For The Sullen have graced recently. For those who were there, I know you enjoyed the evening as much as I did. A show that will last long and fond in the memory.
As a final aside – this is my 200th post here, and I’m pretty thrilled about this. Those who have read (and occasionally read between the lines) will know why I started this and why I sometimes continue to do so. Happily, this has done the job I set out for it to do back then, and it has reawakened an enthusiasm and a joy that I’d lost in something that is ultimately rather meaningless but something that, in the right hands and at the right time, can shape emotions and characters. Thanks to everyone who’s passed through, everyone who found reasons to hang around, and those who have formed the subject of this and the previous 199 posts (and hopefully all the subsequent ones) who have created something worth listening to over the years, and who occasionally buff my ego up something chronic by confusing these mad scribblings as meaningful “Press”. Cheers to all.