‘Communion – the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially on a mental or spiritual level’ or so read the poster for the first Communion Club Night in Liverpool, due to take place at The Kazimier. For those of you who don’t know, Communion is a club night that was first established in London in 2006 by the trio of Ben Lovett (Mumford and Sons), Kevin Jones (Bear’s Den) and producer Ian Grimble. Their home was popular student haunt, Notting Hill Arts Club. It was the genesis of the nu-folk scene that emerged around that time, and showcased acts like Noah and the Whale, Laura Marling, Mumford and Songs and King Charles. So they arguably had a lot to live up to, showcasing new talent (mainly) from the Liverpool area.
Collectors Club, the first act of the night, are a 5 piece, comprising of two guitars, keyboards bass and drums. They played happy brand of melodic pop. Tight 4/4 drum grooves, smooth falsetto, and popping lines on guitars were the order of the day. At times they sounded a little like Vampire Weekend, incorporating African-pop sounding guitar lines, with quite skilfully sung vocal harmonies. One track hinted more than subtly to the seminal track by ‘Van the Man’, Brown Eyed Girl. However, I couldn’t help feeling that we’d heard this story before… only told better.
Next up was Natalie McCool. Having recently won ‘Female Artist of the Year’ at the newly established Liverpool Music Awards 2013, I was intrigued to her what she had to offer. Standing centre stage, clad in black, she opened with her cover of ‘Wondrous Place’, originally recorded by 50’s artist Billy Fury (also from Liverpool). In sharp contrast to the lyrical content, which celebrates the feelings completeness experienced by a man when with his lover, McCool’s rendition proved a bleak, yet intensely moody opening statement. She further reinforced this new dynamic for the evening, delivering a set characterised by atmospheric reverb, thumping toms and a well controlled and subtly nuanced vocal, calling to mind Feist’s latest album ‘Metals’. At other times, one could hear a little of the style of Tori Amos creeping in. McCool played a number of tracks from her eponymous debut album, released last year, which came across well, despite her regret at not being able to play her unreleased material. She also included a covers medley of the songs Nightcall and Real Hero, both included on the soundtrack to the film, Drive, which has received a near cult status. She earnestly made it clear that she was first to cover these songs, referencing the recently released version by London Grammar, and this conviction was mirrored in her take on the songs. Her performance had an endearing shyness as she spoke to the crowd, however she came across extremely confidently musically, her vocal especially was assured and had a beautifully dark, yet pure timbre. The final song came and went without ceremony, and those actually listening to the music were left wanting more. Overall her set had a clear sense of character and was a clear highlight of the night.
Etches raised the tempo a bit, adding rockier moments to the mix. They remained a little difficult to fathom, mixing classic pop elements, with what were at times, quite dissonant, chromatic ideas. As a result, the songs often lacked flow and felt a little disjointed. Musically, their first single, ‘The Charm Offensive’, had a slow, Kings of Leon feel to it, mixed with a vocal vaguely reminiscent of White Lies; somewhat at odds to the rest of their set. However, the highlight of their performance came in the form of a cover of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, adding their characteristic angular and unpredictable harmonic ideas to the Motown classic.
Racing Glaciers followed the now well-worn path of the evening, delivering some well crafted pop, layering guitars and synths into some quite epic textures. The inclusion of a trumpet was well judged, adding some variety to the sounds of the evening. They also proved one of the most exciting acts to watch, rocking out a bit at the climaxes. One track also notably had a Foal’s feel to it, with some similar musical ideas to their track ‘My Number’. Their performance was tight, showing up some of the other bands on the bill. It was also very refreshing to see smiles on the band’s faces. Live pop music is supposed to be fun, and they knew it. Catch them at Liverpool Sound City this May.
Finally it was Amber Run’s turn, the only band not originally from the Liverpool area, it was in fact only their second gig in the city. Their set included many of their current releases; ‘Heaven’ and ‘Little Ghost’ were two pretty tracks, which included some tasteful keyboard playing and delicate guitar lines, respectively. Consciously or not, one of their later tracks had a grove and guitar part reminiscent of the track ‘Girls’ by recent pop sensation The 1975. Although the crowd had diminished somewhat by this stage in the evening, they were most engaged for Amber Run, singing along and dancing around, which was encouraging to see, since so many audiences these days remain so passive at gigs. They finished their set with their most famous track, and an obvious fan favourite, Noah, which had a nu-folk tinge to it. On record these guys have a polished, sound, mixing close harmonies and some folky aesthetics into a pop framework. However at times they fell a little short, especially vocally. That said, the crowd didn’t care, calling for more after the band had finished.
Whether or not this début night by Communion achieved the ‘spiritual’ level of transcendence that it aspired to is up to debate, however there was a palpable sense of excitement throughout, which made for a fun evening.