review archive

The Essex Green / Fanfarlo / The Leaf Library – The Luminaire, 17th October 2006

Hurrah for the lovely Luminaire with its cosy glitterball ambience, weirdo stage and pub downstairs where everyone gathers pre-gig to scoff Thai food alongside the bands, before legging it upstairs to nab a comfy banquette. If only it didn’t take several thousand years to get home from it would be the perfect venue. Never mind, because at least tonight we’re getting the perfect band in the shape of The Essex Green, who, courtesy of Track and Field, are on their second London visit this year and, en route home from having become superstars in Scandinavia, are on ridiculously splendid form.

It’s been a while since we’ve been to a Track and Field night, but, coo, we’ve chosen a good ‘un here. First on is the much muttered about (in a good way) The Leaf Library who on first glance buzz and hum darkly in a gentle Saloon/ Broadcast-with more heart way. Theirs is a warm, comforting sound of twinkly luciousness, a little bit Radio Dept, but without the Scando bleakness. A girl and boy share singing responsibilities, I like it best when the girl sings, she has a husky, musky chocolatey voice, that swirls in splendidly with the autumn smokiness of the songs. At the end I buy their home-made CD, eager to hear more of The Leaf Library’s shivery, downbeat, come-in-from-the-cold, warm your hands pop.

Leaf Library vs glitterball
Fanfarlo being fab

Fanfarlo thrill us by being obscenely great now they are a full band and not two blokes playing nice if slightly samey wistpop with backing tracks. They’re still playing (mostly) the same songs, but what a transformation the addition of actual people playing actual instruments makes. They ricochet along, drums rattling, trumpet tootling, guitars a strum-o as Simon sings of ‘Elephant Graveyards’ and ‘Talking Backwards’ in his hazy boy voice. Look around and the audience is rapt, jiggling and grinning and, you know, ENJOYING it all.

The Arcade Fire are a reference point bandied about in Fanfarlo descriptions and I can see it, the excitable, racing orchestral pop and potentially huge tunes. But I find The Arcade Fire kind of annoyingly pompous, whereas Fanfarlo are too breezily lovely for that. So far. Mind you, Simon, the spawny get, knows he’s cracked it, saluting cheerily as the band leave the stage.

The Essex Green: "Hello London!" London: "Hello!" The Essex Green: "exciting drumbeat, sound of swirly organ loveliness, guitars crank into life…SQUAWK!"
Erk, there’s a dodgy cable and a wondrous beginning is shattered. No matter, it’s kind of an ice-breaker and as we all wait cheerfully for the sound to be put to rights, the evening’s tone is set; a cosy camaraderie betwixt band and an appreciative crowd of Essex Green loving folks.

Once again with feeling then, and we’re soaring away on the sun-dazzled sweep of ‘This Isn’t Farmlife’, Sasha Bell’s crystalline voice gliding around the words, ‘I read the news with all its angles bent’. I love this line; it’s especially apposite when it tinkles through my headphones on the morning tube ride, when every other passenger is flapping their copy of The Metro in my face.

It’s a great set, gaining the edge on The Essex Green’s last London show thanks to the addition of my fave E.G. pop hits; the dreamy, heatstroke heartbreak reverie of ‘Our Lady In Havana’ and stomping, trilling ‘The Late Great Cassiopia’. We get fifteen songs - a fine mix from all three LPs, though leaning most heavily on the current ‘Cannibal Sea’ - every dip, slide and groove of which we know off by heart now, which is just as well because the first five songs are the first five from the LP played in order. The Essex Green aren’t just a music machine churning out the tunes though, they play around, give the songs a bit of a night out, garland them with curlicues of sound, tickling a riff here, teasing the keyboard lines there and giving them a good pasting with the drums throughout.

Essex Green I love you
Sasha rocking red tights Drummer Lee is laid back, but super-powered. He smacks the skins ferociously so they boom and thump their rhythm up through the soles of your feet, but somehow he gives himself the space to do cool twirly bits and to make it all look like its nothing, like flicking a fly away. It’s a beautiful thing to watch – and you don’t often get to say that about drummers.

Half way through, Sasha (hands up who wants to be Sasha? She’s so ‘60s cool with her hair and her flute and her cute aloofness) announces the band are being joined by ‘Some older guys’ and lo! Ye olde Rob Sekula ex-14 Iced Bear shambles on with, er, his mate and proceeds to stand looking sheepish and adding the odd backing vocal to a rollicking ramble through The Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘Older Guys’. Hmmm…

Guitarist Jeff Baron has been tickling our fancy with a pre-gig mix played through his i-Pod, providing an insight into The Essex Green’s musical DNA. The Left Banke nestle alongside Johnny Cash, providing handy reference points to the E.G. sound; baroque pop and country strolling arm and arm. The set ends with ‘Cardinal Points’, its burnished groove breaking into cranky guitar breaks, with everyone bobbing about following the rhythm through right angles, stops and starts. At this moment on a Tuesday night The Essex Green really could be the perfect band. Dressed in threads that suggest sixties city bohos taking a folksy jaunt in the country they cooly join the dots between jaunty folk, lazy country, hoe-down psychedelia and a sunshine flecked big pop sound.
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