19 Azar - Year 1385
Our first gig at the Zodiac since it was sold to the Carling (tm) chain last month, featured a couple of hometown heroes.
Vashti Bunyan, the underground psych-folkie who was briefly part of the Incredible String Band's late-60s commune, is originally from Oxford. She released one largely-ignored (at the time) record, Just Another Diamond Day, in 1970--and then disappeared for twenty-odd years. The album was 're-discovered' by nu-folk vanguards Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and The Coco Rosie--who started name-dropping Bunyan and even got her to perform a few 'comeback' shows. This led to her long-belated follow-up to "Diamond Day", Lookaftering (featuring Banhart and Newsom)--which was released last year. This would be her first Oxford gig since the mid-60s. Goldrush have been Oxford scenesters for awhile now and have had some UK-wide attention. They are also founders of local label, Truck Records, which puts on a nice festival every summertime--sorta the indie-kids' version of Cropredy. They've always been O-town runners-up to Supergrass and Radiohead--and it seems they should be more well-known than they are. They seem a bit of a mix between The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev and Neil Young--with lead singer/rhythm guitarist Robin Bennett's vocals sounding more than a little like the Lips' Wayne Coyne, which ain't a bad thing, to me anyway. Apparently, a while back, his vocals owed a debt to Super Furry Animals mainman Gruff Rhys.
The first sign of "meet the new boss" came when Pixie's handbag was searched as we were entering the venue. She said that only happened once before--and I've never seen it happen since I've been attending gigs with her there. A real W.T.F.???!! moment happened as we entered the upper hall. There were four or five tables set up, with flowers and candles--as if we were in a bleedin' restaurant!! Some punters were already sitting at the tables--and people in front of the tables were sitting on the grubby floor so as not to block the view. I hope this development was only for this gig, in anticipation of an older crowd--otherwise it will seem a shame and may cause a 'haves and have-nots' feeling amongst the crowds. Oh yeah--hope you didn't enjoy Boddington's ale that much--'cos it's gone and been replaced with Carling brand.
KTB, a Truck-sponsored act were up first--and I wasn't too impressed. It was that same-ol'-same-ol' folkie singer-songwriter stuff you've heard so many times before, only it's done much better by people like Eliza Carthy, Kate Rusby and a million others you can think of. The lead singer even finished the set with a song with "willow tree" in the title--seriously, that should be banned from use as it seems to be a painful English folk cliche to me. The back-up vocals were handled by a couple of her mates--who were reading the lyrics from a notebook--and this is meant to be KTB's 'new single'..right. The Epstein were up next and their set was more enjoyable--though it seems Carling hasn't invested in a new sound system--'cos the mix still sounds shit for a louder band. The Epstein play a country/indie-rock synthesis similar to Goldrush's and it easy to see why they made the bill. They even have a guy playing electric banjo--I was hoping he was going to bust into some sort of Hendrix-inspired feedbacked banjo solo...but no. Still, we were treated to a quick set and apparently, it was the drummer's final gig with the group and I suspect he's of Russian descent because they finished with him vocalizing a Russian waltz--one of the guitarists oom-pah-ing away on a melodica.
Vashti took the stage after a 20-minute intermission, to the raucous applause of the crowd. She was joined by her 4-piece backing band, including a cello player and violin player. She can still hit all the notes perfectly--and she exuded a shy stage presence with her hippie-dippy charm intact. The "hits" were out of the way early in the set--with Just Another Diamond Day and her psych-folk gem Winter Is Blue following each other as the second and third tunes she played. A couple of newer ones were next, from "Lookaftering"--then another from "Diamond Day"--and that was all. She scurried offstage, smiling and looking like she enjoyed herself, basking in the applause.
Goldrush appeared after a few minutes and fired off a short preview set of all-new material from their forthcoming new one, The Heart Is The Place (due out in February, according to Robin). Going by what I heard, the Rev and Lips influence seems quite strong--though on one of the tunes, they managed to rock out a Neil Young-esque jam for the coda. Robin announced the song I'm Not A Machine as his "Woody Guthrie tune" and 24 definitely had a Mercury Rev-like sombre feel to it. There was also an unintentionally funny moment as John Bennett's keyboard stand collapsed and he finished the tune kneeling on the stage, sheepishly looking over at the rest of the group. Robin said "How come that didn't happen during Vashti Bunyan?" Karma, dude....just joking....maybe. They finished with just John and Robin, playing a semi-acoustic tune.
It was then announced that Vashti would be back on stage with her two friends, Jenny Lewis and Angela Strange. They performed in the early-to-mid 60s as The Three Of Us. The three duly filed out, took their seats and performed a close-harmony folk set that included Bunyan's early songwriting efforts and a cover of the Everly Brothers' Dream. This time Goldrush were their backing band and they did a nice job--playing with subtlety and grace--it was perfect for the trio's material. If only the crowd were quieter--especially during "Dream"--I almost thought I was at Brookes Uni., with the loud, annoying student crowds.
A good gig, and despite the (relatively small) annoyances--one worthy of attendance, especially for the chance to see another 60s survivor like Bunyan. The fact that she was so reclusive for so long makes it even more poignant. Hopefully she'll want to play some more shows, based on the positive response she received from the crows.
We may have to go back to see Goldrush, if they play an album launch show in February. Let's hope they've got a better keyboard stand next time.