Sunday, 11 November 2012

Rachel Kaye at The Ale House, Leigh, November 10th 2012

The Ale House isn't the most obvious of live music venues, hidden away on a Leigh side street with bar prices that would have seemed cheap 20 years ago, but Rachel Kaye managed to make this one corner of the world her own on Saturday night with a blindingly brilliant solo set.

It can't be easy setting up your own audio gear with no time for a sound check, before launching straight into a series of spellbinding renditions of all-time great tracks - not to mention remembering to change out of your Uggs before you start singing.

For Rachel - who by her own admission had not had the best of days - the set-up looked almost effortless, the show began within minutes of her entering the building, and she was warming up the crowd literally within seconds of walking in.

A lesser talented performer might have struggled to compete with the dozen or so TV screens showing live darts, but Rachel's glittering personality, instant likeability and sheer strength of talent meant there was only ever going to be one star of the evening.

We were only able to stay for her first set of modern classics - and I'd love to have been able to stay for the second half of the show, when she'd promised to bring out some of the oldies - but that was still enough to recognise the brilliance of this young lady.

When, halfway through her first song, the guy sat next to me turned and mouthed "she's good", there wasn't much to do but nod in agreement.

My personal high point among what we saw was Rachel's Devlinesque rendition of Torn, into which she managed to inject more character and finesse than Natalie Imbruglia's original effort, without over-complicating what is a fairly sweet and simple track.

In a dirt-cheap side-street drinking hole, Rachel was every bit the glittering star, and well worthy of a much bigger stage - and I say good luck to her. Instantly likeable and enduringly memorable, look out for her in any given bar across the north-west on a weekend night, and know that, if you spot her, your luck's in.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Benjamin Gibbard - Former Lives

Former Lives - Benjamin Gibbard
You can't always spend eight years on an album, but that's what Benjamin Gibbard did with Former Lives, his debut solo release.

You may know Benjamin better from Death Cab for Cutie - but Former Lives is an opportunity for an intimate glimpse into some of the landmark moments of his life from recent years.

"These songs span eight years, three relationships, living in two different places, drinking then not drinking," he explains. "They're a side-story, not a new chapter."

However, they're also more than just a release of pent-up angst - and while some of the music and lyrics are admittedly simplistic, I don't see that as anything of a problem.

Some of the greatest love songs ever written are equally free from complexity, and there's definitely nothing 'basic' about Former Lives.

Instead, this is an album with a charming honesty to it, lacking in the commercial cynicism that you may have become accustomed to.

Gibbard is both a storyteller, and the subject of these stories - making for a uniquely tangible character to this solo debut that you're unlikely to find in much of the album chart.