Ed Harcourt - We begin with a singer/songwriter from England. In fact, we have a Harcourt from Wimbledon. There is a tennis joke in there, but few of you are as geeky as I am about tennis, so I will spare you. He lines up at piano, with an organ, some preset sounds, guitars both acoustic and electric. And for support, we have a drummer and bassist who provided some female vocal support. The music is classic singer-songwriter rock/pop music. The drummer and bass player do not provide pyrotechnics with their playing but I am quick to sense they have a great feel and sense of dynamics to create a subtle landscape to support the songs. And the songs are very good with a wonderful variety of styles from a positive pop song to dark mysterious passages. Harcourt's voice is the stand-out instrument as he has a Buckley-esque range, closer in style to Jeff rather than Tim. The third song had some really deep bass notes on the keyboards with a great murky evocative vibe from his rhythm section which allowed his voice to soar off in very clear and powerful bursts. "The Trap Door" had good guitar work with a dreamy arrangement and the usual strong vocals. There were some psychedelic loops and more interesting guitar sounds late in the set. Ultimately it was the voice and the high quality, nicely varied songs that carried the day. The filling 9:30 Club was quite receptive and much quieter than usual. Clearly, they felt the powerful atmosphere and were fully absorbed in this excellent set.
James - I would say that it is hard to believe that a group from Manchester playing oddball improvisations opening for the Fall would go on to success as an accomplished pop/rock band, but the punk scene had many of these stories. James has had a long excellent career beginning with their early releases on Factory Records. I expected a slick accomplished set which they indeed delivered. They had a full sound with two guitars at times, viollin, bass, drums, keyboards, extra percussion and some trumpet as well. Strong indie-minded pop music that rocked out with varying focus points of guitars or drums. They had some interesting violin work which made me think of The National. Their arrangements were much more interesting than that of many mainstream pop and rock bands. The vocals were prominent and this singer also had a great range. At times, it reminded me of the Decemberists with a clean melodic vocal over a great rock arrangement. They had one song that was rocking along well enough until it built into a long screaming psychedelic finish. "Just in case you thought we were a pop band". I am not even sure I needed the next heavy song they did at the end, to realize how much I enjoyed this varied set from a very accomplished band from one of the most important scenes in history.
Quote of the Night: From the opener... "We came last night to see the Eels, damn good band." I always like to see musicians enjoying other musicians' work. I was fortunate enough to interview Ed Harcourt last night which I will be writing up soon. Thanks to him and his team and the club for giving me the time.