Behind the grandiose pillars of LIPA’s front entrance, I was surprised to find bit of an extra buzz. Even on a quiet day, the place emanates a kind of excitable creativity, but today the giddiness was palpable. And why not. The 2ube Xtra is certainly something to be excited about. For the performers, it is often their last show on home turf before venturing out into the industry world, and for the audience, a line-up of some of Liverpool’s finest musical talent. And it all takes place in the Paul McCartney Auditorium; an impressive looking but suitably enclosed space in the heart of LIPA, packed with enough equipment to appease Sir Paul’s investment in the school.
On entry, the final touches were being made to what would become Chanel Sampson’s stage; complete with glittering letters adorning the skyline, and an elephant. Impossible to miss, Chanel bounded through her first track, before welcoming her audience “to the circus” – a nod towards the performers who would accompany the music throughout her set. ‘Fuck You Matthew’, a track from her new EP ‘The Beginning’, lived up to the finger-flipping, joyous hilarity of its title – unless your name is Matthew, of course – but also demonstrated the high level of talent on stage.
Probably an acquired taste, tracks like ‘This old guy’ and ‘Little Red Dot’ manicly skip around topics on whose ground is usually tiptoed on. Without this however, Chanel’s curiously infectious persona would suffer, the set as a whole displaying a sort of calling of arms for those more idiosyncratic individuals. Dreamboat eased into something more introspective, a vulnerable turn in the set which, instead of a risk, turned out to be a highlight. Seemingly as quick as the set started, Chanel now adorned with a large accordion, capped the end to a performance of improbable eccentricity.
Next performer, Grace Hartrey, cuts a more traditional singer/songwriter figure. The band supporting her, no smaller in size, swapped accordions for acoustic guitars and despite the omission of circus theatrics, were equally dedicated to performance. Opening tack ‘Hiding Bodies’ was as powerful as anything performed all night, and the somewhat morbid humour of its title belied the enjoyment etched on the audience’s faces throughout.
Hartrey is as likeable performer as you will see, handling some potentially awkward technical faults with ease, and endearing the audience as she went. This of course, is punctuated by her striking talent as a guitarist and vocalist. During ‘Warm July’ her lyrics shimmered over a fairy lit audience who, under the pin-drop silence afforded to witnessing something beautiful, were utterly fixated. ‘Letters’ and ‘Hazel Grows’ show off a real cohesion with her fellow musicians, harmonies ebbing and flowing in immaculate tandem, while ‘Strangers’ and ‘Kings and Queens’ are the appropriate jewels in her crown. Upbeat and energetic enough to allow for the ferocity of Grace’s vocal on full unrestricted terms, a few cursory glances to the grinning label-looking types nodding their heads in the corner tells you everything you need to know about a triumphant set.
It was surprising to see last act, Emilio Pinchi walk on stage alone, given the size of the bands before him. In front of faded spotlight and accompanied by just an acoustic guitar, opener ‘Worlds Best Optimist’ showcased Emilio’s torn vocal, teetering on the edge of cracking emotion. It’s a rare and impressive ability in the business of melancholy, to empathise with an audience without falling into self-indulgence, and Emilio’s mastery of it makes for compelling viewing.
For all Emilio’s talent as a soloist, the crowd reacted excitedly on the introduction of some accompanying musicians, Kate and Sophie on keys and strings respectively. ‘Slow Down’ benefited from additional instrumentation, providing a more naturally evocative canvas for Emilio’s vocal to paint over. ‘Fireworks’, introduced in typically self-deprecating manner as ‘the greatest hit of the noughties nobody has heard of’, benefited too, rising and falling in intensity. As much about the poignancy of empty spaces as it was about the building of emotion.
For new track ‘Sober At The Party’, Emilio introduced Georgie Pruden for backing vocals. Again showing a deft hand at moulding feelings of isolation and displacement into something that resounds with great depth and gravity, the crowd were hooked within the first two lines: ‘You and I were nothing but a consequence at best. No ones gonna know our names, and no ones gonna guess”. Articulating the frailties of adolescent romanticism was nowhere felt as piercingly as when Emilio’s and Georgie’s vocal entangled and lilted somewhere in the middle distance. ‘Happiness’ too, agonisingly conflicted in name, surmised the curiously paradoxical nature of watching Emilio. Some of the most piercing and, at times, quite frankly upsetting of topics, decorated with enough human touch as to make them unflinchingly watchable. It seems unfair to coin it a performance, with all the artificial connotations attached; rather, a shared cathartic experience of the rawest quality.