The Exeter Phoenix looked different, not different in a bad way, just different….Never before had I seen cabaret style tables added to the floor area in front of the stage, it took on the look of a comedy club minus the stressed waiters and heckling punters.
Tonight was a special evening as it was the first time I had seen Paper Aeroplanes play as a 5 piece band. I’ve seen them a number of times in more intimate surroundings as a duo, a 4 piece with a double bass but never as a quintet, were the additional instruments going to add to the sound or take away the fragility and emotiveness of some of their classic tracks? Read on to find out….
We arrived at the venue early (as we normally do), met up with Sarah and Richard from the band back stage and dished out a feeble excuse about not being able to locate a bottle of ‘Sailor Jerrys’ rum at short notice on a very wet, cold evening in central Exeter (I interviewed Sarah recently and said that I would bring her a bottle after I found out it was her favourite tipple), she was visually upset at my failure, instead I presented them both with a Dairy Milk advent calendar which lit up their faces like two young kids on November 30th, success!
First to grace the stage with his presence was Stu Larsen, hailing from Australia, he brings a likeable blend of indie, folk and pop to the party, going down a storm with fans all over the world. Armed only with his naughty guitar (you’ll find out below), his voice and a harmonica, he managed to produce a captivating, enticing and delicious sound that anyone would warm to instantly. During his set, he asked if people were willing to join in and sing along, a couple of nods and murmurs were heard from the audience, he said that he’d be happy with two and they could even remain seated! The song that followed was amazing, the audience singing the chorus whilst Stu sang (unplugged) over the top and expertly strummed his acoustic guitar, very effective indeed.
As I mentioned above, his guitar was being rather mischievous and dropping its tuning after every track so Stu was having to engage with the audience possibly more than he usually would have, nothing wrong with this as the tales he told were amusing, one story was when a friend had asked him to write him a song, he did so and upon listening back to it, he liked it a little too much and decided to keep it for himself, safe to say that his ‘friend’ no longer talks to him!
His last track involved a harmonica, he mentioned before the song that he does sometimes have issues with the frame getting stuck in his hair and beard so he may require some assistance after the show to free him from the contraption. Luckily, the onsite St Johns Ambulance staff were able to remain at the bar (soft drinks only) as he managed to untangle himself successfully afterwards!
We had the pleasure of chatting to Stu after Paper Aeroplanes' main set, we gassed about social media, relaxation techniques and how he got to star in one of 2013’s most popular tracks (that I guarantee you will know), to read the interview, click HERE
What A Wonderful World
Thirteen Sad Farewells
Heading back to the main auditorium, which had filled to capacity, people were still entering and had to sit on the side steps. We took our balcony seats, okay, I took my seat whilst Julian (who dresses in black but occasionally very dark grey) took his position side of stage in the shadows to grab some pics of the band when they took to the stage.
There was a thin veil of dry ice hanging about the front of the stage and when the lights dimmed, the band strode out, picked up their instruments and started to play, Sarah’s voice sounded exquisite (as usual), must have been the advent calendars that she scoffed prior to the show….
Once the opening track 'Circus' had reached it’s peak with all instruments called upon, it sounded fuller, richer, more complete, as I said at the start of the write up, I was concerned that this may take away the tenderness and fragility of some of their more sensitive tracks, this was answered midway through their set when the additional 3 members left the stage, leaving just Sarah and Richard on stage to perform 3 tracks, ‘Same Mistakes’, ‘Fable’ & ‘Limelight’. The stripped back sound of just the two of them playing together, their vocal harmonies and Richards beautiful finger picking took me back a few years, this was the sound that I had heard the very first time I had seen them play live, it was the sound that I fell in love with and here I was, 4 years later, feeling those feelings once again, magical!
It was also nice to see Sarah without a guitar around her neck for every track, having the band behind her allowed her to spread her wings, move around the stage a little more and let her effortless vocals float gently above the beautiful soundscape that the band provided, such a talent.
Tracks such as ‘Good Love’ and ‘Safe Hands’ were more upbeat, constant drums and tight bass leading the charge with the keys providing a glorious backdrop to the track, offering a slightly different flavour but still very ‘Paper Aeroplanes’.
Richard and Sarah must have spent a lot of time in a laboratory, blending and mixing various potions to achieve the magic formula that they have, they could go on forever, churning out solid gold indie folk offerings every time, the audience will always be there to soak them up.
A track that proved this formula was active was ‘Winter Never Comes’, Sarah described it as a ‘Sad song about Winter’, ‘Leaving in September, so Winter Never Comes’ and ‘Fly away to hide beneath the sun’, beautiful words, presented with light keys and drums in the background.
Sarah explained that she had been to a nail salon to have a couple of gel nails fitted to assist her with her guitar playing, she then apologised upfront in case anyone in the front row found a nail in their drink or even hitting them in the face midway through a more energetic track. ‘This is why we sometimes wish we have public indemnity insurance’ said Sarah, she then stated that rather than suing the band, you should go ahead and sue the venue instead, clearly in jest, please don’t actually file a law suit whatever you do…unless of course you have a valid claim!
One of their later tracks ‘Multiple Love’ started out very key heavy and reminded me of the output of a 3 piece act called London Grammar, this was followed by their latest single ‘Guessing Game’ which sounded amazing and went down a treat with the capacity audience. They ended their set with ‘Little Letters’ and duly left the stage to rapturous applause.
It was at this point that Stu Larsen offered his precious time to conduct an interview, he was heading straight off to Southampton to stay with friends prior to heading to London to join Paper Aeroplanes at The Union Chapel for a sell out show so who was I to refuse? Fortunately for me, someone who stayed for the encore (Twitter ID is @Fuzzyflanks) was there to capture the events and said that Sarah and Richard returned to the stage and played their rendition of "In The Bleak Midwinter" and sung "Newport Beach" among and along with the audience which created a lovely intimate end to a great night.
I think I speak on behalf of everyone who attended the gig when I say that it was thoroughly enjoyed, the music making partnership that Sarah and Richard have is amazing, long may they continue to produce songs that entice, captivate and amaze, we all look forward to seeing them on tour when they are promoting the new album which is pencilled in for a Spring 2015 release.
Only a Lifetime
Days We Made
At the Altar
Winter Never Comes
Same Mistakes *
We Are Ghosts
My First Love
When the Windows
In the Bleak Midwinter **
Newport Beach **
We had a chat with Sarah a couple of weeks before the show in Exeter, if you'd like to see the interview, click HERE
To see more pictures from the show, please click HERE
Review by Steve Muscutt
Photography by Julian Baird - www.julianbaird.com