Live Review: Alex Clare – Shepherd’s Bush Empire -10/11/14

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He made a name for himself featuring on tracks by the likes of Rudimental and Subfocus and when his debut album, ‘Lateness of the Hour’ went straight into the UK top 20.

As he takes his unique blend of folk and drum and bass on tour, we headed down to check out Alex Clare and his support act Freddie Dickson at their only London date.

It is rare that I ever make it anywhere early.  So when I arrive at Shepherd’s Bush Empire to tones huskier than Maverick Sabre on forty a day and a straight, Bastille like intonation emanating from the stage doors, I am particularly pleased with my new found punctuality and just have to take a look.   Those tones turn out to be that of London based singer songwriter, D/C.  Accompanied by a two piece band, jazzy keys, Spanish guitar and atmospheric sub bass are given a minimalist overhaul.  More vocally organic and less obviously electronic than SBTRKT, D/C embraces the comparison with a cover of ‘Wildfire’, and ‘Daughter, Daughter’ is definitely a track to check out.

With everything so instantaneous now, it seems like musicians are constantly in competition to create something different.  But there’s only so much ‘different’ you can hear before it all becomes, well, the same.  So to see Freddie Dickson return to what I guess you would call the traditional set up of a five piece band is refreshing.

A minute of watching him is enough to dispel any comparisons to Tom O’Dell that might arise from listening to him recorded.  Most noticeably, he actually moves around.  Poetic arm gestures mean he strikes a distinctive figure and act as a visual demonstration of his immersion into his own lyrical journey.  He’s darker than Tom, too.

There is a dramatic, almost orchestral power to his band that evokes the indie rock pop of bands like Cherry Ghost and Keane.  If Keane were way cooler that is.  In a musical landscape dominated by house pop, the crowd reaction to Freddie’s nod to the early 2000s proves that atmospheric, classic pop rock has really been missed.

Feels Like It Should’ showcases the light and shade and resulting narrative capabilities of Freddie’s vocal.  ‘News’, with its jagged, train track guitars gives Freddie’s performance a cinematic edge that directors will surely be falling over each other to get their hands on and his failure to be dwarfed by the magnitude if his band’s sound proves he’s one to watch.

Having spotted an almost incognito Alex Clare cheekily sussing out the venue on level one when I arrived –humble AND professional, we like! A reggae backing track echoes round the room as it fills up and I am soon surrounded by an excitable bunch that turns out to be Alex’s massive, and entirely lovely, extended family.  The stage is bare aside from three square platforms, instrumental islands each dedicated to a piece of the band. We all remember the surprise of discovering the chilled out, folky looking face behind the Microsoft advert that launched Alex into the limelight and as he takes to the stage to a roaring welcome, his unassuming attire once again reminds me of why he doesn’t need gimmicks and showboating to keep us all interested.

Hummingbird’ quiets the crowd and the reggae outro compliments the soulfulness that seems almost innate to Clare.  As he asks for a shout out for his mum, the room enthusiastically obliges. People don’t just love his music, they love HIM, proving that having your feet firmly glued to the ground will get you surprisingly far.

Before showcasing the title track of his latest album, ‘Three Hearts’, we are let in on the inspiration behind it as Alex dedicates it to his wife and baby daughter.  The twangy, bluesy guitar makes for a rawer tone than the previous tracks and two key changes expose Clare’s ridiculous vocal abilities as does a cover of Etta James’ ’Damn Your Eyes’.

A wave of familiarity gets everybody on their feet for ‘Treading Water’ and I’m way too jealous of everyone downstairs enjoying the signature D and B drop we’ve all been craving.  As the heavy guitar runs into ‘Up All Night’, there’s not a mouth in the house that isn’t going ‘on and on and on and on’.  Alex leaves the stage but his band continue into an almost jungley, instrumental and a spectrum of stage lights and I’m pretty sure nobody wants to go home any time soon.

During those tense five minutes of pre-encore nothingness, the self-doubt creeps in as whispers erupt across the room.  ‘Wait, he hasn’t done the song yet!  Has he?’  Hell, even I’m wondering if I missed it. I would have heard it from the toilet?  Or was I at the bar?  Clearly we will never learn, because lo and behold, the man himself returns with ‘Too Close’, and all is right with the world.

Alex’s album, ‘Three Hearts’, is out now.

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