Walking to the Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre to see a much lauded group called Willard Grant Conspiracy, I was literally mobbed by hundreds of spotty oiks dressed in ‘onesies’, did the group attract these types at their gigs? I was concerned, maybe I too should stop off at Primani to load up on suitable attire in which to attend the show. Luckily for me, as I neared the venue, the pyjama clad freaks had dispersed, leaving a much more appealing mix of 40 somethings dressed in what I approve of, thank the lord!
It appears that it’s ‘Freshers Week’ at Exeter University which in my eyes, involves getting dressed up in ridiculous clothing, drinking far too much, soiling yourself and waking up in a strangers bed the next morning, I hoped that none of these endings would be repeated by me after the show, well, the waking up in a strangers bed is always a bonus I guess, providing it’s not a 70 year old man called Barry with halitosis, a penchant for cheap rolled gold jewellery and takeaway food…
It was a seated affair, couple this with the fact that it was a Wednesday night and you are normally off to a bad start, a healthy number of advance tickets had been sold and with some punters paying on the door, I would say that the auditorium was about ¾ full by the time that the band took to the stage.
I knew little about them before the show, having only read up on them this week, I was surprised to see that their back catalogue stretches back as far as 1996 and since then, they have gone on to release 14 albums (10 studio and 4 live). In 1998, they had a track appear on a cover disc courtesy of UNCUT magazine as well as being named ‘Band of the Month’, Robert Fisher said during their performance that this raised their profile significantly in the past decade.
The band operate as a collective and since 1995 have seen upto 30 musicians contribute to its output, tonight, founding member Robert Fisher is accompanied by his long time collaborator David Michael Curry on viola and wood saw and Jonah Sacks on the electric cello.
Projected stripped back imagery and videos adorned the wall behind the band, acting as a multimedia backdrop to their blend of dark, alt country that this audience love so much. Their set included a mix of songs from the past 17 years, 'Perry Wallis' and the haunting tones of 'The Only Child' were lifted from their latest long player Ghost Republic, 'Ghost of the Girl in the Well', 'Soft Hand' & 'The Trials of Harrison Hayes' all from their 2003 album 'Regard the End'.
The more upbeat 'Soft Hand' was included on a soundtrack CD for the Matt Damon movie 'Stuck on You' and 'The Trials of Harrison Hayes' was the track I referred to earlier which was present on the UNCUT cover CD way back in 1998, each delivered beautifully, captivating the room into near silence.
Being the first time I had seen these guys, I was impressed, their mix of lullabies, upbeat numbers and all out 'dark shit' allowed me to indulge in their brooding, rhythmic sounds. The haunting tones of the cello and the eerie screech of the viola all served to feed Fishers delectable appetite of immense, atmospheric and moving music, some tracks bringing a ray of sunshine through the gloomy storm clouds, some just bought about stormier weather.
We sat in a trancelike state whilst the sounds of the final offering rolled over us, with their introduction of 'Let it Roll', Fisher explained how they recently performed it in a church and he did admit to feelings of guilt (for about 30 seconds!). The song, taken from the same titled LP which was released in 2007 was highly reminiscent of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds....some pretty heavy shit going down, guttural vocals and abusive use of the instruments coloured a grey backdrop of all out general nastiness and boy did the audience lap it up!
Steve Muscutt & Shaun Rogers
Photography by Julian Baird WWW.JULIANBAIRD.COM