Review: Animal Kingdom / Shady Bard / Everett @HareandHounds

Animal Kingdom / Shady Bard / Everett
Miss Perry Presents…
The Hare and Hounds
17th February 2010

Wednesday night. The Hare. King’s Heath’s own Miss Danielle Perry is putting some finishing touches on the upstairs room and tacking up some last minute posters. In a ridiculously short amount of time and literally a handful of shows she’s played host to acts like Pulled Apart by Horses and vampire teen flick soundtrack sensations, Band of Skulls in what have turned out to be wonderfully intimate, but massively enjoyable gigs with handpicked local support. The good word seems to have got around as the room is already well over three quarters full before the first band have even taken to the stage.

Everett look like a band beaten as they huddle around the merch table assembling copies of their ‘Storyteller’ EP with a note saying ‘Please Take One. Donations Welcome!’. For a Birmingham band that have been around for quite a while now, a quick chat with guitarist Nick reveals that 2010 might well be Everett’s last hoorah unless something comes their way as they seem to be having more kids by the month and settling down.

At about 8:40 they kick off into a set of piano-led ambient rock that showcases Michael Oliver’s great voice, whose tone and intonation lies somewhere between Chris Martin and David Gray, gliding with effortless ease. While almost appearing completely polished and somewhat lifeless at first glance, it is Mike’s little stumbles and shrieks that keeps him on our good side as this sort of piano-rock has produced some very boring and simply dislikeable people indeed such.

Everyone’s attention is grabbed by the atmospheric rendition of ‘Prologue’ that leads into the highpoint of the set: ‘Where Loyalties Lie’ which is a brilliant, brilliant song that doesn’t just bring out Mike’s vocal talent and keyboard bashing, but the guitar work is very subtle and understated with its building on riffs awash with reverb and delay and what perhaps makes this song so stand out is the perfectly formed rhythm sections – the bass dips and modulates exactly how you want it and every snare stutter and big fill from Rich Cope couldn’t fit better if they tried any harder. It really steams along whilst retaining their careful atmosphere and ambient frills that are really pushed to the forefront for the remainder of the set.

One of Nick’s guitar strings snaps in the penultimate number causing him to make an appeal to the audience. Fortunately a saviour appears in the form of Aidan from Shady Bard: “Use the white telecaster!” he shouts before Mike plays a solo number to pave over the wait with his voice arguably at best while it is this exposed and vulnerable.

The closing number is a similar lesson in ambience, while the telecaster gives Nick an edge with its more twangy tone – the Les Paul he was wielding until this point sort of became a supporting act with its warm tone that easily got lost in the noise. Plenty of people proceed to pick up an EP and the donation pint glass seems to be considerably weighty. Everett, please don’t disappear.

Considering the amount of instruments that Shady Bard have at their disposal it is nothing short of a miracle that the changeover is as slick and fast as it is. Shady Bard are something of an unknown quantity to this reviewer so after seeing French horns and trumpets go up as well as the previously mentioned telecaster with a Radiohead KID A bear sticker on it, it looks like this lot could be very interesting indeed. In fact, Shady Bard turn out to be fantastic. They avoid falling into the trend of hyper-intellectual folk revival bands with their simple and genuine approach to songwriting and by squeezing in samples and an electric guitar that perfectly compliment each other. While lead vocalist Lawrence has the perfect whispery texture to his voice to fit the bill, he’ll very often duck out to focus on smashing at the keyboard in front of him and allows a barrage of brass to do the talking. In the centre of the stage, bursts of glorious cello add to the warmth and vibrancy of Shady Bard’s sound. When Jasmin swaps her French horn for a violin, the string arrangements are very often nothing less than beautiful.

‘Treeology’ perhaps best defines their sound as an open picking pattern from guitarist Aidan and a wonderfully long and drawn out building with strings and airy backing vocals which eventually explodes into a full blown chaos of snarling guitars, booming cello and pounding percussion. There really is no ‘lead’ instrument in Shady Bard – even calling Lawrence the ‘lead singer’ somehow doesn’t seem quite right – the whole result of Shady Bard’s is a truly collective effort where all six chip in an equal amount for a massively enjoyable noise that has been expertly composed and nurtured until its unleashing.

The band have been featured in heavy TV dramas like ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ and perhaps hit their publicity peak in 2007 with the release of their album ‘From The Ground’ which earned impressive reviews with Drowned in Sound offering a rare 9 out of 10. Here’s hoping that Shady Bard can recapture that buzz and go much further with a second release as with a set like theirs, it’d be a crime for them to not be all over your radio.

Animal Kingdom’s Rich Sauberlich is looking a lot scruffier today than he did back in October when we saw them last, although it’s a testament to how well turned out Animal Kingdom are that he stills looks as fresh faced and cheeky as any young local band buzzing about their first gig. In fact a Youtube commenter on their video for the single ‘Tin Man’ recently likened him to a hybrid of Pete Doherty and Frodo Baggins.

Previously when we caught Animal Kingdom live, they had been recently signed up to Universal Records and looked somewhat lost up on the big stage. Their performance was immaculate however and the fact that the room is packed is a sure fire demonstration of how much the word has got around in just four short months. They are brimming with confidence this time around and have picked up second guitarist, Scott, along the way.

Tonight AK’s biggest strength lies in their quieter and more considered moments. While fan favourites and recent singles like ‘Lights and Sounds’ and ‘Tin Man’ raise the roof, some of the band’s finery and attention to detail is simply smothered in a swathe of double guitar delay noodling. Scott’s input does make a big difference however as he adds an extra dimension to the bigger, more electric tracks that the band previously struggled to attain but he should perhaps just relax a little on the quieter ones and not feel obliged to throw e-bow lines in at every opportunity.

Most recent single ‘Two by Two’ is given a fantastic airing out by being played acoustically. Rather than the low piano destroying and choppy guitars that punctuates the release, this live rendition seems to take AK back to their original format as an acoustic band that simply amped up to be taken seriously. New song ‘The Mirror’ is an excellent brooding number that exemplifies AK’s flawless grasp of slow burning texture yet bassist Hamish simply can’t resist snapping his wrist and slapping out the Alan Patridge bassline for ‘Tin Man’ – a habit that was apparently discouraged by famously picky producer Phil Ek on the recording of their recently released debut album ‘Signs and Wonders’.

The band finish on ‘Chalk Stars’ – a quivering piano led epic that utilises the sparse guitars, glockenspiel tingles and allows Rich’s voice to soar. Despite the promotion to a five piece, Hamish still has to reach over Rich’s right shoulder to tap out the top piano line on the final refrain. It could be a sublime metaphor for the band’s kinship and versatility, or it could just be them running out of hands, but a bit of band bromance sounds more uplifting to us here at Blue Whale.

It could take very, very little for this band to end up doing massive things very soon – Danielle reckons a support tour with Sigur Ros or Mew could tip them into widespread consciousness. The main thing we want them to accomplish is for them to make the dreaded obscenity that is ‘stadium rock’ no longer a dirty word.

Tim Mobbs

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