Easing into another gig hundred and a new gig year at the same time; a traditionally slow January normally starts locally, and this year is no different. This year Tim’s band The Shudders have sorted out a Friday evening gig up the Vic, with an intriguing prospect as support; El Born, a band put together by the copiously talented but hitherto unheralded (and somewhat flakey, possibly one main reason behind said unheralded status) Si Connelly, whom we last saw playing a living room set in Tim’s front room in 2007, under the pseudonym of Sam Elliott! Apparently with some momentum this time (a recent sold-out Barfly gig and an apparent championing by the terrible but at-least popular Coldplay), this one was very intriguing, so we headed off up the hill after Rach’s mum arrived to babysit.
However, our curiosity was clearly not shared by the Swindon gig- and pub-going populace, as, following a squabble for a parking place, we arrived at the Vic to find it virtually deserted! I know it’s’ January, people, but really… Tim emerged for a chat, soon followed by the rest of The Shudders, already well lubricated and more than a little teed off about the quietness of this Friday night gig. We wandered down to check out opener Johnny Lucas, on nearly one hour late at 9. Originally due on at 8, this would actually have meant playing to the other 2 bands only! As it was there was barely a dozen of us to enjoy this permanently-smiling tousled young chap’s loop-embellished acoustic set of summery pop. Much as I dislike the increasing usage of loop playback machines in live performances (this goes back to my loathing of PWEI back in the early 90’s!), I had to concede Johnny made the right use of his, almost taking the piss with silly noises and falsetto harmonies, which when over layered, actually created an impressive effect. Nice start, overall…
The 4piece El Born then took the stage, and despite the still-sparse crowd, absolutely crushed it with a great set. When Si kicked into the powerful, rocking opener “Kangaroo”, I got the same warm glow as when watching the similarly hitherto flakey Patrick Emsweiler fully blossom with The Spaceshots. Some superb driving (as in, blasting out of the radio along an open West coast highway with the soft-top down) rock, recalling Ryan Adams’ “Rock’n’Roll” phase, interspersed with some slower, anthemically tumescent choruses and one stripped back, octave-straddling ballad in “Miles Davis”, delivered with some scary conviction from Si and the band, despite the lack of numbers watching. The boy is a proper singer, with an impressive wide vocal range, but rock suits him, his raspy snarl adding drama and gravitas to the material. “We’re on our way up,” he remarked at one point, and you know, he’s right… finally, he’s right!
By contrast, The Shudders, on finally at 11, weren’t at their best, allowing the lack of punters (and possibly the amount of beer imbibed) to affect their attitude and performance. In retrospect, opening with a couple of slow, introspective numbers after the power and punch of El Born might have been a mistake, and whilst 3rd number “Rooster” cranked up the tempo, the band wrapping themselves deferentially around Jim’s impressive drumming performance at the song’s climax, something sounded amiss throughout their set. There were some nice harmonies, as ever from the boys, to embellish their indie rock and alt-Country melange (increasingly inaccurately referred to as Pirate folk), but the playing seemed rushed, the lead vocals off-kilter or off-key, the conviction absent. A shame, really.
We also had to dash off to relieve our babysitter at the end of intended final number, the slow-burn, moody (sic) sea-disaster epic “Mary’s Grace”, and departed at 11.30, just as The Shudders kicked off an unrequested and unnecessary encore. Hopefully next time the boys will sort it out and put this performance behind them. But the night wasn’t a total bust, thanks to a startlingly good performance from a very promising new band and a singer who’s finally got his mojo working. Si Connelly, with El Born, you’re going places. At last!