Tuesday, October 28th, 2008
Give Me Love
Lucky Soul at Webster Hall and Joe's Pub, New York City – CMJ
Frank YangJust to give you how tightly I have my finger on the pulse of what’s hot in music… in all the CMJ coverage that my RSS reader has been barfing up at me, I’ve seen exactly one mention (at Pitchfork) of the band that got me on a plane to New York City – London’s Lucky Soul. All these other buzz bands that everyone’s talking about? Whatever.
The band had two dates scheduled as part of their North American debut, and in the interests of making the most of the opportunity, I hit up both. One was their official CMJ showcase, the other was their own show as presented by the good people at Music Snobbery, and in terms of vibe and setting they couldn’t have been more different. The former came first, and took place in a new live music room underneath Webster Hall called The Studio, and it can generously be described as a dark basement. They were the penultimate act in a showcase dubbed “Bring On The Brits” and featuring a lineup of bands whom I don’t doubt were here from the UK, but apart from Lucky Soul, none of whom I’d ever heard of. I arrived in time to catch one of said bands, a Brighton-based outfit called Passenger who played emotive acoustic-based rock and sounded not unlike The Frames if The Frames weren’t as good at what they do. Certainly nothing offensive but also nothing that had me wishing I’d arrived earlier to catch all their set. And, after all, they were in the way between me and Lucky Soul.
But they left of their own accord – no need for an incident – and right on schedule, Lucky Soul and their wonderful brand of retro soul-pop met North America. And as much as I’d like to say otherwise, it wasn’t the smoothest introduction. For starters, singer Ali Howard’s voice had gone AWOL just a few hours before the show and while she was able to perform, the clear, beautiful vocals of the record were replaced now decidedly raspier and she no longer had the range to hit some of the high notes. Her bandmates did their best to compensate with backing vox and it definitely helped, but when she dropped back, it was very noticeable. She did seem to find some more strength as the short set progressed, but a dodgy mix didn’t help matters much.
On the plus side, the band was obviously determined to not let this setback deter them and did their very best to put on an energized and enjoyable show and I’d say they succeeded, though I can’t honestly say how much of that was fact and how much was my own excitement – having played last year’s The Great Unwanted damn near to death, it was great to finally be able to hear (and see) them live, even if the circumstances weren’t ideal. I left satisfied, though also hoping that between that night and the next, Howard would discover some mystery apothecary in the Lower East Side and her voice would be magically healed.
For though that first night was the “official” show, the second night was the “real” show – a bill featuring them and them alone in the decidedly more upscale and posh surroundings of Joe’s Pub. Surprisingly, though the previous night was a free show and this one ticketed, this one was much better attended, presumably by genuine fans rather than just random CMJ punters. And while most of the observations from the previous night still held, on this occasion there was simply more. More energy, more showmanship, more songs. Howard’s voice, sadly, was still hurting but again it improved as things went on and spared the PA dropouts from the Webster Hall show she was able to make the rasp work in her favour, mostly, giving the songs more of an edge from the sweetness of the recorded versions. The band were just as tight but the positive vibe of the room seemed to give them more pop. They sounded great and they looked great, the boys in suits and Howard in a sleek strapless dress. Between the two nights, I had a marvelous time and was absolutely thrilled to have been able to see them live – and considering how swarmed by fans the band were after the gig, seeking merch and autographs, I was not nearly the only one.
Both nights had similar setlists, though the Joe’s Pub one was obviously longer. In addition to covering most all of The Great Unwanted, they played more new material than I’d expected – it sounded less overtly throwback-y with a touch more country-soul, but still wonderfully hooky and quite strong. The debut was not a fluke. As I understand it, a second album is still a ways off but this bodes well for whenever it comes. Which raises that ever-present rhetorical question – why aren’t these guys, if not huge, then at least more talked about? Most everyone whom I’ve made to listen to it has fallen in love with them and it’s not as though it’s difficult music or would be at all tough to market. But these… these are questions that there’s no rational answer for and dost make one’s head hurt. So I’ll simply say that their two shows made the trip totally worthwhile and this had better not be the last time I get to see them perform.
Photos: Lucky Soul, Passenger @ The Studio at Webster Hall, New York City – October 23, 2008
Photos: Lucky Soul @ Joe’s Pub, New York City – October 24, 2008
MP3: Lucky Soul – “The Great Unwanted”
Video: Lucky Soul – “Lips Are Unhappy”
Video: Lucky Soul – “My Brittle Heart”
Video: Lucky Soul – “Add Your Light To Mine, Baby”
MySpace: Lucky Soul
Making an appearance on said record is Twilight Sad frontman James Graham, and to mark the start of that band’s Fall European tour with Mogwai, they’re releasing a limited-edition album collecting live tracks, unreleased goodies and covers… of course, the only place to get it right now is their Fall European tour with Mogwai, but surely there’ll be other avenues and when I know, I’ll let you know. More details on the release at Pitchfork.
Stream: Bloc Party / Intimacy