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Straylings: Live Review

The Straylings are getting it right, but the kindling stayed wet.

The constant churn of styles in the bitter quest for hipness has delivered another pleasure: Straylings. They have pedigree and talent but it's live where they handle fire.

Reputations building: Straylings on record.

Straylings are building a reputation in the same Gothic pop vein as Anna Calvi and Lana Del Rey. Their sound encompasses new wave cool with a precision bordering on contrivance but within some clever musical flourishes there are enough sparks of originality to warrant flashes of attention. They can write a passable indie tune.

Oliver Drake's washes of guitar devolve into noise and back again. All the while Dana Zeera croons disaffection strumming away at her guitar and breathing sultry fire into the mic. A shuffle beat swings underneath, thumbing a lift along an epic highway denouement. 
It's a good mix of ingredients that is a few preparatory steps away from being cooking.

In a shallow chariot you have one hand to hold the reins.

Despite the impoverished malaise of January 2012 the Camden Barfly was in ample attendance. Support act The Larches played a fulfilling set of prog-folk community arts college anthems reminiscent of a poppier North Sea Radio Orchestra or some of William Drake's less eccentric work. They are a centrally English experience and give the appearance of a bunch of talented teachers who met round a campfire at an overnight Humanist ramble. And if a Keats-based poetry session led into an intense session of wife-swapping and footwear discussions, who's to judge. Which is to say that they're a chipper musical force with a quiet lyrical weird that beckons at every juncture.

The Camden show, however, was slightly underwhelming. Perhaps it was the poor sound, but the band members never really gave the audience much. They swayed, they sang but the vibe wasn't right, it gave the impression of damp pets. Still loved, but irritating. Which is a shame as the audience was very much 'there' for their set.  Off nights can be had, and forgiving groups like the Larches is easy, they're honest and working in earnest against the grain. I'd recommend seeing the Larches again, their solid live experience has been well documented online, and in the right mood they could be cultish favourite.

Larches – EP Launch Party from Rob Symington on Vimeo.

If only as much could be said for Straylings. The feted headliner was given a great introduction by the departing Larches and expectation was running high. Amongst the chatter names like PJ Harvey and Anna Calvi were being passed around the bar.  Outsider originality has become the norm and we're corralled (not unwillingly) into making some sweeping assumptions.

Music marketing doesn't like complexities and in some ways these comparisons have effectively silenced Dana before she sang a note. We have another's tone in mind already, if deviation from expectation is disappointment then the rest is assured.

High praise. Massive Expectation.

As Straylings, climbing shy onto the stage,  shook out the first uncertain chord, it became clear that anticipation would kill this young band before they can manage a proper tour. The songs so forceful and virile on record, sank on the small stage with barely a ripple. Under dim lights the guitars, bass, drums and voice seemed disconnected and disinterested. To their credit no trace of arrogance could be found, but the lack of stagecraft and presentation meant that their supine energy dissipated from every verse, chord, cymbal and groove. Straylings may have a smidgen of coquettish appeal but it's a poor substitute for swagger (See PJ Harvey and Anna Calvi). Music needs confidence, crowds need a captain, fans need energy, and I needed a drink.

Getting Burnt

Watching their performance online it seems they can punch hard, but with what consistency I couldn't say. Whatever crushed their mojo we may never know, and despite the poor sound the crowd was theirs to lose; many in the audience knew the songs, or learnt them by the second chorus, danced hearty or at least clapped happily. People still had a good time, but as the set ended out the audience weren't talking about the band. In end Straylings were too easy to filter out of Saturday's presence.  

A riveting set precludes the need for a beer, a cigarette or a trip to the toilet. I ran through the list twice.

Straylings & Larches (and also Orlando Seale & The Swell + Buzzard Lope) played  the Camden Barfly on Sat 14th Jan 2012


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