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Woodpigeon, Laura Gibson and Withered Hand, Union Chapel, Islington, May 6th 2010

May 8, 2010

If you wanted to escape the mindless pundit-babble of election-night TV, the Union Chapel was the perfect bolt-hole – gentle music, manageable egos and no hot air. In fact, it can get quite chilly in the austere church, but that’s part of its charm.

I wasn’t familiar with opening act Withered Hand, the alter ego of Edinburgh singer-songwriter Dan Willson, who looks like a regular busker, but plays droll songs with some bite. Mojo describes his music as ‘lapsed evangelical folk nouveau’, and there’s enough religion-tinged angst to justify that, but it’s his sardonic observations of our faults and delusions that make his songs worth listening to. And I’m always going to be won over by a drug song which includes the phrase ‘Knocking on Kevin’s door’.

Laura Gibson was as quietly impressive as when I saw her last month at The Borderline, but this time she was funny too. She came on and said that this was the last date of her tour, so they’d ‘give it all we’ve got… in a gentle, folky way…’ Highlights were slow-burners Where Have All Your Good Words Gone and Funeral Songs, along with Sweet Deception and Nightwatch.

She was keen to involve the audience with two sing-alongs and one percussion-along involving claps, stomps and sets of keys, which was actually quite fun. Here’s a fine video of her talking about her album and singing Funeral Songs:Calgary’s Woodpigeon is the brain-child of Mark Andrew Hamilton and although you could pigeonhole (sorry…) them as part of the beardie nu-folk movement, there’s a lot more going on – sometimes too much, perhaps. Their music is a sort of folk-edged chamber-pop and many of the songs are finely wrought and tight, while others suffer from just too many swoops of louder and quieter passages.

Their recent album, Die Stadt Muzikanten, has been described as ‘cinematic’, which is pretty accurate. The songs sound like a soundtrack, but in concert, that’s a difficult trick to pull off. Without visual narrative and an explicit cohesion, the ear and eye can tend to wander.

Woodpigeon have been compared to Sufjan Stevens, whose concerts are similarly challenging in that the audience isn’t quite sure if they’re seeing a spectacle or just enjoying a set of songs. There were good things, though, notably a song about a little-known London landmark, Postman’s Park in the heart of the City. The tiny park includes a wall of hand-painted tiles bearing tributes to Londoners who gave their lives for others. While looking at this, the ‘Watts Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice’, lead-singer and songwriter Mark was particularly moved by the story of twelve-year-old David Selves, whose fate is described on the tiles thus:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tracy permalink
    May 18, 2010 10:11 am

    I’m digging Woodpigeon lately but have just started listening so haven’t gotten in too far yet. Interestingly the kids and I were just in Postman’s Park last week and had a grand time reading all those tiles.
    We’re off to Union Chapel tomorrow night to see Jeffrey Lewis and then again on the 31st in Brixton thanks to a heads up from your lovely partner.
    Give me a holler next time you know of something good I should check out. I can always be plied away from the tedium of my life with even mediocre live music and a decent pint.

  2. brandnewguy permalink*
    May 18, 2010 4:21 pm

    Hi Tracy – enjoy Jeff 🙂 How about doing a festival or two this summer? We’re going to a bunch of them… I’ll email you a list of gigs too.

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