Ever have a gig ruined by bad sound? I often complain about sound being not quite right, but rarely does it really spoil a gig. However, on Friday, the excitement that I had about seeing Tilly and the Wall at the Luminaire was almost dissipated by a complete failure to get the levels right throughout their whole set.
I should have seen it coming. Even during Emmy the Great’s opening set there were signs. Now, there was a lot less to get wrong there – she uses mostly just an acoustic guitar, though unlike the previous times I’ve seen her, she was accompanied on stage by a couple of people, including Johnny Flynn on violin (a decent artist in his own right). I’ve already said plenty about Emmy on this blog before, and I won’t add to it, except to say “record companies: SOMEBODY GIVE THIS GIRL A RECORD DEAL NOW! Are you mad?” She’s brilliant. And she gets better every time I hear her.
In retrospect, I can’t make up mind whether Semifinalists are actually rubbish, or if they too were hampered by bad sound. It probably doesn’t help that they seem to have fragments of good songs tucked away in general messing around, and sometimes when they got a good thing going, it stopped abruptly. Who knows? Towards the end of their set, when they begin to turn into more of a power pop trio, and got out the classic hand-held Casio keyboard, things began to look up. I’d probably have to reserve further judgement until I hear their album, and maybe see them live again. What I can’t fault though, is their enthusiasm. They’re an odd band. All of them sing. Drummer Chris Steele-Nicholson with his high pitched vocals. Ferry Guow with his yelps, and not to mention his pink baseball cap, huge white glasses and 80s throwback jumper, flinging himself around stage. They’re fun to watch at least.
Tilly and the Wall abandoned their pre-gig group huddle in favour of coming onto the stage with a cheerleader-style chant, but as soon as they launched into Fell Down the Stairs, we know something was amiss. Instead of between song banter, it was all about asking the sound man to turn various things up or down. For most of the set the girls’ vocals were way too low in the mix (and if you know their music, that’s a definitely a problem). Towards the end things began to balance out a bit but by then the sound was high enough to be showing signs of strain. However, Omaha’s finest soldiered on – what else could they do? They’ve got enough charm, enthusiasm and downright loveable-ness to see them through, and the crowd were all still rooting for them. Particular highlights for me were the raucous flamenco moves of Bad Education, Shake it Out, and set closer The Ice Storm, Big Gust and You, which still gives me tingles every time I hear it. And the lyrics are especially apt for this evening.
We will sing pretty songs about love
And we will fight if that's what it takes
And we won't back down
No we won't shut our eyes and go to sleep
We will write all over your walls [maybe they did – I didn’t check the loos before I left]
And we will dance to no music at all
We will do what it takes to get through to you
At the end of the encore, when the band had given up sounding right, they invited everyone on stage to join in their rabble-rousing outsider anthem Nights of the Living Dead. It’s an appropriate end to the set, especially the chant of “ I wanna fuck it up” which is precisely what the sound man did. However Tilly and the Wall, in my eyes, can still do no wrong. Their Buffalo Bar gig in February will live long in my memory.
Today the new album Bottom of Barrels finally arrived at my house! Great to hear it all the way through, rather than the random mp3s I've picked up lately. Not a vast departure from their classic indie-pop style, but why would they want to? And this should be one album where the words 'bottoms' and barrels' are not used in conjection with 'scraping'.
It comes with a special limited 7 inch if you buy it from Saddle Creek (UK kids – if you want it, you need to buy it on import – it’s not officially out in the UK yet. Don’t pay £11.99 on Amazon for it when you can get it far cheaper direct from the label – including postage!)
Download: Tilly and the Wall - The Freest Man
Download: Tilly and the Wall - Love Song
Download: Emmy the Great - Aiko (live)
Download: Emmy the Great - Edward is Deadward (live XFM session)
(thanks to swishblog for the XFM one)
Buy Tilly and the Wall's previous album Wild Like Children
You can download Emmy the Great's lovely single Secret Circus from Tunetribe.
Update: Looks like the man from The Independent had a similar experience at this gig.