On the most bitterly cold night of this late Devonian Autumn thus far, the expectant hordes gathered at the newly christened altar of all things musical and performing, SDAC, put together on a shoestring but decorated this evening with pure dulcimers from heaven’s own sun showers.
Rue Royale returned following their unforgettable performance at The Studio Lounge in February, a mere stone’s throw from this new mecca for lovers of melody and pure-hearted song. Bigger crowd, bigger soundstage, even more chance to impress.
Before moving to the delectable main course, let us linger long enough with the most tempting starters.
Crow Puppets are a female duo of singer songwriters in the contemporary folk tradition with nods to their forebears. The instruments are acoustic guitars, banjo, penny whistle and improvised percussion. Cara and Em bring brightness and vigour from the off, one voice dark and mysterious with subtle hints of Joni, dappled shadings in amongst the shafts of sunlight. Their finger-picking is expert, yet languid. The couplets flow freely – ‘If you listen you may hear / Don’t close your curtains, night draws near’
We soon learn they are recording their debut LP in a Cornish cabin, the rent paid for in homemade apple pies!
‘The Moustache Song’ (with no reference to the hirsute in its lyrics) features smoky harmonies, somnambulant echoes. ‘Ice Maiden’ feels more trad, the Irish penny whistle capturing the melody, anchored by a single drumstick clinking against a packing box, a metronome to bring the listener under its spell…
Vocals offered straight merge into gentle ululations – ‘Come alive, feel the earth at your feet / There’s no troubles in this life that you’re too afraid to meet’. You can draw strength from this, feel inspired, made happier in an instant.
They finish their oh too short set with an ‘angry’ song (not really…), the words revealing other layers, the musical tapestry that bit more enthralling – ‘Shield crack and fall, raining down like cannonballs!’
Such promise, let’s see where they may take us, on a journey to wherever.
Next up is Mae and The Midnight Fairground, a distinct and totally unique outfit who set out to deliberately and deliciously confound expectations and succeed in spades (and buckets). A juicy red keyboard stands centre-stage, glowing and ready. Either side is cello, electric guitar and a nonchalant busker figure in the corner thrumming out a bass line in percussive motion. This performance is all about suggestion, an atmosphere you can taste and ingest, breathe in and savour. Yet it remains INTENSE and draws you in, slowly, imminently.
Mae tells some cute funny stories in-between songs, but it is her super energetic vocals and physical mannerisms, which hold the listener rapt with attention. I am thinking early Kate Bush mixed with Joanna Newsom’s spaced-out stylings, the vocal acrobatics of Laura Nyro, then the nuanced wordplay – ‘ When you’re on your own, are you really on your own?’
The songs are original, never forced, making you want to rejoice in her glorious (in)difference to prevailing trends. Kinetic energy fires sparks from the stage, an intoxicating blend, populated by beautiful misfits. Sometimes up, sometimes down, but not drifting away, the time signatures are rich and varied, YOU are disconcerted wondering which way will they twist and turn next?
‘Weasel’ channels an encounter with a baby squirrel and includes both cello and clarinet. This is non-linear, brave and experimental songwriting showcasing Mae’s highly individual voice. I begin to see Kristin Hersh in her eyes, the strident approach holding you, not letting your mind wander, always prowling.
The song ‘Lucien’ has literary stylings – ‘When came this desire to fail, this detour?’: it feels French even pre-war, a drunken ditty in a rainbow timewarp. ‘Bill’ describes a homeless man (‘where do you belong, when you mind is not your own’), rootless through his lack of possessions, whilst ‘Tabby’ becomes a bawdy sing-a-long, call and response with the audience, willing participants in this vaudevillian hopscotch. Mae and her perfectly formed crew are true fascinators. Go investigate!!
Third in line but first in line to the throne are the glorious Rue Royale. Masters of slowbuild atmospherics, the voices of these two multi-instrumentalists dovetail elegantly and effortlessly. They revel in glowering emotional turmoil, theirs is careworn yet uplifting Americana, dramatic in tone falling forward with gentle yet insistent propulsion.
Introspection is their bag, but they willingly invite the listener in, duelling in sweet harmony – ‘ Everybody’s lost and trying to find somewhere to go…’ The narrative shifts to guides, being led into the light. The music reveals new layers, the poetry more sublime – ‘Pull me out of the darkness like a string, pull me right in two, pull me back to you…’
The backbeat thumps hard, proclamations of love and hurt reel off the balcony, you want the songs to go on and on to infinity – beautifully lost to the world, ensnared by wildest dreams.
Moments are breath taking, enhancing, when their two voices coalesce – like tiny stars exploding in slow motion. The intimacy comes knocking, there is no escape. Last tune ‘UFO’ is pure amazement at our insignificance in the world – ‘ I lift up my eyes to the one who shines the most!’. Brookln’s voice finally cracks, acapella, lost in splendid isolation momentarily before the stunning melody kicks back in.
Time for one encore (‘Brought up somewhere else’). RR give you everything and then some more, they are incandescent for sure, leading you down an endless wide eyed road, leaving you to explore.