52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.
Wednesday 21 November 2007
beautiful and trivial and baby just out of reach...
Cherry Ghost @ Rescue Rooms, 21st November 2007
I had a splendid pie at the Keane's Head before heading up to the Rescue Rooms, but once again, we still arrive at the venue early enough to catch the entire act by the support band. I'm not sure that they're ever going to be as big as U2, but Tacks, The Boy Wonder aren't bad. Cherry Ghost are apparently very big on Radio Two, and they appear to have attracted that kind of a crowd, with a lot of comfortable looking people attending their first gig of the year and apparently believing that this meant they had some kind of a divine right to push to the front to get a better view. I don't think that this kind of an audience likes loud music, and Tacks, The Boy Wonder (stupid, unwieldy name and all) are probably right up their street as they are very, very mild sounding. They are from America somewhere and are fronted by a very preppy looking Matthew Modine-alike on keyboards, although the rest of the band looking a touch like a care in the community project. They remind me slightly of a not-quite-as-good Thirteen Senses and they don't really hold my attention, but they seem to go down well enough and make enough of an impression on Sarah that she splashed out a fiver on their CD. They seemed pleased to be there, anyway.
I can't remember what I paid for the Cherry Ghost album, "Thirst for Romance", but whatever it was, it was worth every penny. Without a shadow of a doubt, this is one of my favourite records of the year and it's a gig that I've been very much looking forward to.
Cherry Ghost are, from what I can work out, Simon Aldred and some other blokes. Aldred is a year younger than me, but he looks and he sounds like he's at least ten years older. I've heard the band compared to Coldplay, usually off the back of the single "People Help the People", but for me the comparison is off the mark. Aldred has an amazing voice that's far deeper and richer than anything that Chris Martin could manage. Lyrically he often deals with much darker and more adventurous territory than Coldplay (who, let's be perfectly honest, never really stray very far from vaguely chuntering on about how things are broken and can't be fixed). They certainly get off to a brilliant start by having a warm-up tape that includes both Johnny Cash and Scott Walker, which I suppose makes perfect sense when you read on their MySpace page that they are "inspired by the haunting melancholy of acts such as Sparklehorse, Smog, Johnny Cash and the ceaseless hope to be found at the heart of this Northern landscape". Hen and LB are convinced that Cherry Ghost sound like Johnny Cash, but I don't hear it. Certainly, a few of the numbers have a country twang to them, but although his voice is deep and rich, I don't think Aldred sounds like Cash at all - although to be fair, perhaps we should reassess the situation when he's in his 80s and not in his 30s. I'm not sure who he does sound like though; there are elements of both Cash and Walker, but he probably ultimately lacks the gravitas of either. He sounds good, anyway, and right from the very first song, it is clear that this is Cherry Ghost's most potent weapon.
All the more of a shame, then, that the guitarist -- who, with his pinched cheeks and tiny pencil moustache, looks like a refugee from Sparks -- keeps turning to the sound engineer and pointing to the ceiling, indicating that he wants his guitar turned up. The end result of this is that, as the gig progresses, Aldred's voice slowly disappears further and further down the mix. When coupled with some material that is notably rockier than the stuff on their album, on some songs you can barely hear Aldred at all. He's a good guitarist, sure, but he's not so good that I would rather listen to him than to his singer. I don't know what Aldred's motives are for hiding himself behind the banner of a band rather than performing as a solo artist, but if his comfort in the democracy of numbers means that he allows his guitarist to drown out the singing, then on the whole I think that's a bad thing. On the plus side though, the band have one of those fantastically entertaining drummers who looks as though he lives and dies through the course of every single song, either shouting along to the lyrics (without a microphone) or simply just making "ba doom doom bam tch" type noises as he plays. Brilliant. I could watch drummers like this all day long. The last drummer I saw that was half as entertaining as this was the guy from Cast (although, really, how hard is it to be the most entertaining thing in Cast?).
It was a decent set. The songs are good and they were played well. There's a bit of fiddling around between (and sometimes during) each song as the band muck about with their tunings and swap guitars. Given that they pay roadies to tune up their guitars and set up their equipment for them, I wonder whether perhaps they might need some new roadies... but it doesn't really detract from my enjoyment of the songs. I do wish that Aldred would say more between each song than "Thank you. Cheers." I don't expect him to engage in a monologue, but it's quite nice when a band take the trouble to talk to the band properly. The most he says in the whole set is when he spots someone in the front who he clearly knows and hasn't seen in ages. They have a quick conversation (off microphone, but clearly audible) until Aldred gestures at the rest of the crowd, patiently awaiting the next song, and says that he can't stop to chat now as he has other things to do. It's a shame, in that little snippet of conversation, he sounded like a really amiable guy. I just wish he'd talked to us a bit more.
It's a weird crowd too. Being on the Radio Two playlist is probably great for sales, but it also seems to mean that the average age of the crowd at your gigs is quite a lot older than you might have expected. There's a surprising lack of gig manners too, and a lack of understanding of the basic principles of body space. One couple arrive as the support are playing, march their way to the front and peer at the stage, only to realise that this isn't Cherry Ghost, turn on their heels and march back out again. Thanks for that, grandad. The gig isn't sold out, and I don't really see why people need to push their way up to the front and then stand on my toes. The couple right in front of me seem nice enough, but they are standing so close to me that when the girl reaches round her boyfriends back to rest her hand around his waist, she is also inadvertantly resting it on my crotch. Under other circumstances this might be great, but to be honest I was trying to watch the band. Things got worse too, when a visit to the bar meant that she swapped places with her boyfriend, and I now had him pressing up against me. Not good. I was also a touch confused when so many people left before the end of the set. They didn't just leave before the encore, they left before the last notes of the last song of the main set had finished. I don't understand people who leave any gigs early, but it's not as though the three or four hundred people in the Rescue Rooms tonight are going to put all that much pressure on the car parks, is it? These people miss the band's return to play "People Help the People" and a cover of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black". The latter does nothing for me (I love the original), but it's a good way to finish.
I know it sounds like I hated every last minute of this.... but really I didn't. It was a perfectly good night out. I'm just a touch disappointed because it's a record that I love and I was hoping for better.