Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Arts Cafe, Camden Monarch, London

There are two sides to every story. Newton proved the existence of equal and opposite reactions, Chinese philosophy gave us the Yin and the Yang, Freud based his theories of personal development on the twin drives of Eros and Thanatos, and Robert Louis Stevenson had Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Gravenhurst, as with many other singer-songwriters (sorry, I know that that’s a bit of a dirty word), deals with the age-old dichotomy between the acoustic and the electric guitar.

Maybe a brief history lesson is in order at this juncture. Once upon a time there was a band called Assembly Communications. Their sound was pitched somewhere between the desolate beauty of Red House Painters, the effects-pedal driven onslaught of Ride’s early singles and soaring vocals reminiscent of Art Garfunkel. They built themselves a solid fan base around their adopted hometown of Bristol, took In The City by storm and turned down record deals. But then, for reasons that won’t be entered into here, the band split.

After a while singer Nick Talbot started Gravenhurst as a solo adventure. The understated majesty of Assembly was still there, only this time the thundering guitars had been replaced by a lone, fragile acoustic guitar. But it seems that this wasn’t enough. Alongside the solo effort, a new electric Gravenhurst were also being assembled (ahem). So now, depending on the night, you can have either the solo acoustic Gravenhurst or the full electric movement of the three-piece Gravenhurst.

If it’s Tuesday, it must be the Arts Café. Full band, electric guitars and effects-pedals. Last time I saw the electric Gravenhurst, I wanted to cry. The music was just too beautiful, the longing so perfectly expressed. Tonight, however, the tears are nowhere near my eyes. They’ve been replaced with an overriding feeling of joy. This is music that moves me. Even though new songs comprise the majority of the set, there’s a welcome sense of familiarity to everything they play. I feel like I already know these songs, that I’ve lived with them, that I’ve already taken solace in them.

Whatever the reasons for the formation of a full band, it’s strange seeing the difference in Nick’s demeanour from one night to the next. With the band he looks relaxed, comfortable being on stage. But the night after at the Monarch, he seems nervous, awkward as he stands there alone, the subject of the crowd’s undivided attention.

Musically, there’s not a lot to choose between the two sets. The songs differ (only ‘Damage II’ and ‘Blacks Holes In The Sun’ feature in both), but this is mainly because there hasn’t been yet time to for the band to learn them all, or for the songs to be re-arranged. But, electrically, ‘Black Holes…’ is so mighty that as a set-closer it’s perfect. As Nick stops singing, the guitars arc into a crescendo of wailing noise, building louder and louder, almost in direct retaliation to the delicate sound that has gone before. ‘The Diver’ still sends shivers down my spine, but the spookiest moment of the two sets has to be Nick’s solo rendition of Hüsker Dü’s ‘Diane’. Originally a barked and frantic tale of rape, when stripped down to a single guitar, the song takes on a new, and somehow much more sinister, air, as if the victim’s suffering has been made more prominent by the reduction in volume.

It’s been said that there are two sides to all of us. If that’s the case, then surely there’s room in your heart for the two sides of Gravenhurst as well.

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