23 Demeter - Year 86 p.s.U
Pixie and I weren't sure we were going to go to this show and were still undecided on Saturday morning. We finally gave in and bought on-line tickets, clobbered some bus fare together and headed into town.
We had planned to get some chow at the spankin' new Wagamama restaurant in Oxford, but the queue waiting outside and the full tables inside convinced us to move on. The wait at the Noodle Bar in Gloucester Green was 15 to 20 minutes just to be seated, so we made our way to the Cowley Road. Once more, it was the ol' standby Subway and we wolfed down our sandwiches, then we checked in at the Hobgoblin pub for a pre-show drink. The rugby crowd had descended on every available pub, so we gave up trying to get to the bar and order after about five minutes of standing in one spot.
The exterior of the Zodiac (sorry, the Carling Academy Oxford) has two marquee boards above the entrances with the evening's billings. They've certainly spiffed up the lobby--it's all new and shiny--but I kinda miss the run-down look, it seemed to have some character. After getting our tickets (I had to present my debit card, as the tickets were booked in Pixie's name, not mine), we had our hands stamped and a bloke at the top of the steps scanned our tickets with some sort of device that looked like a shop scanner. We then entered the "Zodiac Room", that's what the upper floor is called now. It's a lot smaller now, what with the old bar area walled off and a huge soundboard sat in the centre of the back of the room.
The Veils, an Anglo-Kiwi band, had the support slot this time around and they filed on-stage to the applause of the early attendees. They played a set of originals and one cover (a taut version of Bruce Springsteen's State Trooper). The core of the band is a trio, but they're joined by a drummer and a keyboardist for this tour. I quite liked their sound, but despite the new light show and sound system in the room, I still found the mix really muddy (some things don't seem to change, I suppose)--especially when they cranked up the guitars. Mr. Harcourt himself joined them for a tune and then after a couple more, the roadies were taking their gear away. I'll have to check out some of their studio stuff for the subtleties.
After everything was set up for the headliners--Ed walked onstage and played a solo piano tune, the band joining him when he had finished. He was in town to promote his recently released "best of" record, Until Tomorrow Then, so he had styled the concert to reflect that. All the hits & just the hits. He's travelling with a smaller band this time, with just a guitarist, double-bass player and drummer--no trumpet or violin (the violin courtesy of his wife Gita last time around). He's also slightly changed some of the arrangements, as on Hanging With The Wrong Crowd. They worked on some of the tunes, a bit less so on others (A Visit From The Dead Dog really missed the middle-eight trumpet solo). The highlights were an extended I've Become Misguided, where Ed used one of those loop boxes to create a mini-symphony of voices and instruments that he played, layering a banjo riff, trombone squawks, tambourine shakes, the phrase "I've become misguided" and his screams, into a foundation that the band joined in on and Beneath The Heart Of Darkness, the full album version with the heavy jam in the middle. They rocked out with spirited abandon and seemed to be enjoying themselves. There were also nice versions of Born In The 70s and Apple Of My Eye included in the set. The final tune of the night (the second number of the encore) was an all-out jam of He's Building A Swamp. A couple of The Veils' ran out onstage, dressed in Native American headgear and created a polyrhythm with Ed (pounding on a floor tom) and Harcourt's drummer. In a bit of a Flaming Lips-ish move, the girl from The Veils walked onstage dressed as a rabbit (with a slightly sinister face), whom Ed introduced as a "Ninja Bunny".
Harcourt seemed to be in a good mood for most of the night, joking about wanting to know the rugby score (he didn't) and thanking us all for being at the show. When he broke out his Jimmy Page-stylee double-neck guitar, he said "This is my favourite moment, when I get to play The Beast". The only tense moment I noticed was when a string broke on his acoustic guitar and no tech showed up for some time to change it...when the guy finally appeared, he gestured at the guitar rather gruffly. Ah well, that's show business. I couldn't score a set-list this time--others had asked the stage-hands before I did. Pixie and I left the venue and headed for the bus stop. We'll be back again in a few days for the Super Furry Animals gig this Friday.