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October 27, 2011 / rocksandgravel

Let’s Buy Happiness + Dry The River @ Levi’s, Regent Street

Written for No Fun.


Although not the most obvious place for a folk concert, for me, a gig in a jeans shop makes a nice (clean) change from the basements and back rooms that I have become used to as a grizzled rock hack. We’re in Levi’s on Regent Street at night time, surrounded by mannequins and more denim than you could shake a member of B*witched at, glass of wine in hand, looking on at the stage that, in estate agency terms, could generously be described as ‘cosy’. It’s hard to believe that the two five piece ensembles on tonight’s bill are going to fit.

Let’s Buy Happiness shuffle on to the stage, wary of elbow room, and it’s clear that the ivory skinned lead singer Sarah Hall is feeling a slight sense of delirium having travelled 6 hours ‘As you can tell, we’re all Geordies’, she says somewhat apologetically. They kick off with ‘Fast Fast’, a song carried along by an infectious percussive rhythm that gets the toes tapping and the eyes off the cut price boot cuts and standing to attention. Which is more than Sarah herself manages. She averts her gaze to a corner of the room, avoiding eye contact with everyone there. Not that we mind too much, she sings in such a subtle sweet manner that the awestruck crowd laps up her turtle dove coos. A slight change of tone comes in the form of ‘Dirty Lakes’ which they jovially dedicate to Steve, perhaps a tour manager or roadie, obviously an in joke in there somewhere. They end with a catchy refrain of ‘ooh ee oohs’ that we continue to hum as we make our way back to the bar and they exit the stage to make way for the Dry The River.

They are an interesting mix of characters, with guitarist and lead singer Pete off to one side focused on the job in hand, while heavily tattooed Scott, unusually for a bassist, takes it upon himself to do all the talking. Sporting some mean sleeves and an impressive beard (perhaps inspired by band favourite Josh T Pearson), he is full of beans, confessing that the snug trousers he is wearing are as suspected, ladies jeans. He assures us that this is a first.

Like Let’s Buy Happiness, the band seem worn down, but then they’ve had an even more hectic travel itinerary of late, whizzing back and forward from New York recording their album under the capable hands of Peter Katis, (also responsible for albums by The National and Interpol, no less) and they battle through, perhaps spurred on by the combination of beers and a small team of squawking fan girls at the front, one of whom is filming, another failing to suppress small yelps of excitement. There’s a charming sense of camaraderie among the band members, who each have their own significant part to play rather than looking to an atypical ‘band leader’. Their songs tell complex tales alluding to nature metaphors and heart break, which have acoustic beginnings that build in intensity via the thin layering up of strings and intermittent, heartfelt harmonies. When Bible Belt, from their forthcoming EP Weights and Measures, comes into effect, spirits seem to be lifted despite impending fatigue, a glorious sampler of how well attuned their vocal harmonies can be- smooth and pitch perfect, a relief considering the sometimes forced competitive nature arrangements of this type can incur.

Lead singer Peter, who has kept chat down to a minimum so far , announces that they will end on Family Tree as he reveals he is fighting a rather nasty cold, but the song, resplendent with soaring vocals and evocative violin plucking patterns from Will Harvey proves to be a tonic for them as they decide to give us one more after that, in the form of the rarely played Lighthouses, much to the delight of the crowd.

Despite battling fatigue, it is evident from tonight that they have seasoned their sound to a tee: a perfect balance of complex instrumentation and harmonising vocals, and their live shows such as this proving to be a joyous introduction to their forthcoming album.

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