[The Arctic Circle] Damien Jurado, Tiny Vipers, The Sleeping Years 6 Nov Union…


7. Nov. 2008, 23:14

Thu 6 Nov – Damien Jurado, Tiny Vipers, The Sleeping Years

What a difference a few days makes. Last Sunday, it was freezing in my favourite London venue, Union Chapel, but last night, it was warm and toasty. And just like Sunday, the air temperature reflected the music.

This time, I did remember my mobile phone takes photos. I snapped a few, but what I didn't realise is I need some software CD or something and then I have to do fancy things, so that's the end of that.

Not to worry, the music speaks for itself. What impressed me was how much better all the music sounded live than recorded. I don't know, maybe my ears are becoming more fine-tuned, or maybe I need to go to more concerts, but somehow, every single song I heard made the recorded versions sound like pale imitations. If you think Damien Jurado's Paper Kite is moving, live, it's extraordinary. The song was on my mind for the rest of the night. I put it on as soon as I got home but the version in my memory had the edge.

The Sleeping Years

The evening began with The Sleeping Years and one of their best songs, The Lockkeeper's Cottage. Playing with Dale were Michelle on cello and Dan on keyboards and electric guitar. Their drummer was unable to be there due to illness and Dale dedicated the pretty How Long Have You Waited to him. There was a touch of the old Hammond organ in Clocks and Clones, which caught my attention.

Video for Setting Fire To Sleepy Towns

The Sleeping Years have a relaxed and laid back sound. Again, Dale's voice sounds different live than recorded. I prefer the live version, which is softer and smoother. They closed with Dressed for Rain, a slow, pretty, sad song with gorgeous cello.

Relaxed and laid back became the tone of the evening. Damien Jurado commented during his set that he's used to rowdy gigs. He said this was such a nice break.

Tiny Vipers

Tiny Vipers was the act I was waiting for. I know so little about her and, unfortunately, I couldn't name the tracks, but my word, she had us spellbound. What she does is come on stage, timid as a mouse, says a quiet little hello then becomes this whole other being with the most incredible voice. I know who she reminds me of, it's a folk singer, from the 60s I think, but I can't put my finger on who. It's the way she accesses the lower registers in her voice. Such a tiny little thing and such unexpected, deep notes. Something else she does is keep the illusion and magic going. She doesn't stop for a thank you or applause between songs. Instead, she mesmerises us with her gentle guitar playing, then launches straight into the next song. If I wanted track names, I had no chance. I had a good time scribbling bits of lyrics, to Google later, when she's big enough to have lyrics on the net.

"it's hard to hold a candle to the wind / it breaks you"
"I see his eyes are blazing / a trail of angels have gone away"

Tell a lie - I can name one! Development. I found it in YouTube. There are a few good videos worth viewing there.

Video for Eyes Like Ours, which she also performed:

Her guitar playing was fascinating. Trance-y and dizzying. She didn't do anything else other than strum, pluck and play, but the sounds she got out of this one instrument were amazing. From drones to that classic shimmering indie sound, from simple single note melodies to complex and complicated chords. At one point, I thought she was struggling. I thought she'd lost her place, she was allowing single notes to linger for so long and there seemed to be hesitation before the next note. Then out of what looked like uncertainty of what solo note goes where, she blew me away with gorgeous, rich, layered music.

At the end, she got up, said a sweet little thank you and disappeared before we even managed to raise a smile. She came across as a very talented, but very shy, performer.

Got it! She reminds me of Nico.

Damien Jurado

Damien Jurado was the big name of the evening, who brought the biggest sound. He had a drummer too, which probably helped. Jenna Conrad wore the most beautiful knitted cape / poncho. I'll just quickly describe it, for my future reference and for all you knitters out there. It was a zig-zaggy knit of four stripes - orange, brown, fauwn and white at the neck. Four blocks of colour. There were three or four big orange buttons. It was short, stopping at the elbows. The ssk slopes were used all around, I don't know how they managed to make them slant the other way, unless they used them on the reverse. ( Advice welcome.) I couldn't see how the neck was finished because Jenna was wearing a scarf, but at the bottom, it looked like a very simple rib, then the rest of the fabric was knit a few rows, with the central rows purled, creating a textured zig-zag. This is the kind of zig-zag stripe I mean here. Here are the knitting pages I have bookmarked, in case anyone's interested.

So Damien Jurado then. Jenna's poncho was distracting, sorry about that. Union Chapel was quite full and we all gave Damien a warm welcome, in this warm place on a mild, drizzly November evening. He began with Denton TX which goes, "She walked in with sadness in her eyes / I could tell she'd been sleeping with the stars". Oh dear! That's the thing about Damien's songwriting, there's this double edge of beauty and proper old fashioned country 'my dog died'. Before anyone accuses me of trashing him, hear me out. His songs are 'my dog died' elevated to as high as anyone could take them. It's 'my dog died' fairy tales and poetry, magical stories and narratives that have you marvelling. Not for nothing is he among many critics' favourite songwriters.

I had a great time scribbling lyrics. I got a bit over-confident later and started writing without looking. No, I can't read them back. But try these for size:

"I'll be your crash landing"
"Will I ever be a hero in a song / Or forever a shadow"
"Two blocks from the subway, three from the fountain / Where I walk to break in new shoes"
"Now fine sir, where is it you shall take me? / Is it in the mountains high / Or is it the deep blue sea?"
"First came the screams / and blood on the floor / the alcohol and magazines / in my flashlight / you were a star"

Video for Damien Jurado - Ohio

I love Last Rights, so I did my bit and hummed along. Would have been brilliant if everyone had joined in but never mind, maybe not everyone knows it yet. It's one of the standouts from the new album, Caught In The Trees. The album version sounds delicate, but on stage, it was powerful enough for no one to hear me humming. Not that I hum out of tune. Of course.

Damien treated us to a cover of a Josh Tillman, known as J. Tillman, song who drums for Fleet Foxes. You can't hear Damien's version in Last.fm but do check out Josh Tillman's - When I Light Your Darkened Door. Forget Bon Iver, here's your man up a mountain music.

Damien Jurado's music is , , , and all those other lovely, obscure genres. Most of all, it's just / and Damien, Jenna and Eric Fisher gave us a showcase of all their work to date, from songs fragile as leaf skeletons to dreamy, shimmering electric guitar sounds. Proper indie, not your average approximation.

Didn't mean to write a book. Hope this has been a good read.

Babs The Arctic Circle

Not performed at the concert, just a bookmark for me: The Downward

[video artist=tiny vipers]the downward[/video]

Tiny Vipers

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  • Justyware

    this is a fantastic review, thank you I got in late for The Sleeping Years and only managed the catch the last song. but i see the whole of Tiny Vipers (who was a pleasant surprise considering i never heard her music before hand) Damien Jurado's set will go down as one of my favourite live performances and he ended with my favourite song :) Union Chapel is a wonderful venue, it set the mood perfectly.

    8. Nov. 2008, 22:11
  • Babs_05

    Thanks, glad you enjoyed reading it. I had only looked up Tiny Vipers here in Last.fm very briefly, but I liked what I heard straight away. I think there's more to her than I managed to describe. I wish I knew more music technical terms so I could do a better job! She does this thing where she draws you in with detail. Ambient artists do it too, where your entire attention is on one single note and what happens to it, and its relationship with space. Something like that! I don't know. hehe I love Union Chapel. I'm planning on making it home from home. ;D

    8. Nov. 2008, 22:39
  • tstarkmi

    Your reviews are awesome, please keep up the good work! :)

    9. Nov. 2008, 15:54
  • Babs_05

    Thanks, tstarkmi! I went into lots of detail so I wouldn't forget my evening. It's a diary entry, lol. :D

    9. Nov. 2008, 16:20
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