Home Of The Honey Box Provides Perfect Setting For Sell Out Show
John MacLeod || May 12th
A warm evening in May at King Street Studios - the venue for Messrs. Haubus, Plant, Tasker, Tasker, and Wilcox to complete the birthing process of their new album, ‘I’m Broken, But I’m Fine’. A hardy crowd gathered in the intimate room more commonly known to us as the venue for Honey Box Live, and were first greeted by the impressively-stocked DCMI merch stall, and the magnificent Chris Wilson of BottleCraft, dispensing all varieties of drink-based refreshments (well, not all varieties - I for one failed to spot any crème de menthe). It wasn’t just a warm evening, the venue soon became a veritable hothouse, and the running theme of the evening soon became ‘People Taking Their Jackets Off And Panting’.
As we circulated amongst the crowd of people, a plot was revealed to myself & Emily Jones, asking if we’d mind being the MCs for the evening, seeing as the gig‘s audio was being live-streamed on King Street Studios‘ Facebook page. It’s good, then, that The Jones & I have developed a rapport over the last few months, although that doesn’t mean that we didn’t kinda haphazardly introduce Kez Liddle, who opened the evening’s music…
I’ve seen Kez Liddle play a few times now, the first time being when she played at The Exchange for an Oxjam charity event, and then a short time later when she supported my band Attack Of The Vapours, again at The Exchange. Since then, each set she’s played has become more confident (also - quite significant guitar-envy at the hollow-body telecaster electric she has adopted for her shows). Kez is one of those solo artists whose soft, sing-song whisper has an ability to silence a room and hold it in thrall, which makes the studio at King Street the perfect venue for her. Her songs are lyrically captivating, undercut by hypnotic guitar patterns, notably ‘You & I‘, and ‘Enough‘, and she even slipped a cover of Elliott Smith’s ‘Twilight’ into proceedings. Finishing on ‘Heartbreak Dealer‘, Liddle completed a perfect set, the spell only being broken when the lights raised and music started playing over the PA.
A short break whilst Maddy Storm got her mic & effects pedals ready, inadvertently setting the stage for a swift bout of slapstick comedy. Maddy’s mic is set quite low, and as Emily & I took to the stage to introduce her (in a smoother manner than before, might I add), I couldn’t help noticing that the mic was pointing squarely at the buttons of my waistcoat, so I squatted a bit. After I dished out some ludicrous nonsense from my lunging position, crouching down to approximately half Emily’s height, she gave a very professional introduction to Maddy. I know my place in this double-act.
This is my first time seeing Maddy Storm play live, and as she began, she triggered yet another wave of hollow-body telecaster electric guitar-envy. The guitar was drenched in watery phaser effects, and the theme of her songs seemed very much tailored to the sound, with songs such as ‘Shoreline’, ‘Water’, and ‘Tempest’. Storm’s voice runs through many dynamics, starting low and intense, and reaching heights worthy of both Tim & Jeff Buckley, which again matched the sounds emanating from her guitar amp. Stylistically, her music was ethereal and swirling, and as she ended her set with ‘To The Sun’ the guitar effects were pushed to their limit, but also somehow turning the simple act of retuning her guitar into a part of the music. Maddy Storm plays some great riffs during this (as she does throughout the whole set), unfortunately the phaser ever so slightly overwhelms the end of the song. This does not mar her performance, however, and her set was a collection of powerful, evocative, and enthralling songs.
Another break while DCMI get their instruments tuned & ready, do a quick sound check, and then it’s one last go on stage for Emily & me to introduce them. I, of course, opted for stupidity & satirical telegram-reading (you had to be there, I’m not explaining it now), leaving Emily to pay a heartfelt tribute to an inspiring & brilliant group of people. And so their show began…
Gary Wilcox and Jack Tasker opened the show on their own by playing, almost perversely, the final track on their new record, ‘Mile End‘. As Wilcox would go on to say, they would be playing ‘I’m Broken, But I’m Fine’ in its entirety, but not in the right order. As the song came to an end, they were joined by Rob Haubus, Matt Plant, and Sophie Bret Tasker, and they launched into ‘King And Queen Of America‘, catapulting the band into a mammoth, 17-song set of new songs, songs from their previous album ‘Underdog Songs’, and even a few covers thrown in for good measure.
Don’t Call Me Ishmael, fresh from their brilliant Lymelight Festival set the previous Saturday, were almost born ready, it seems. It is a golden project, a superb platform for songs that veer between personal, current-event soap-boxing, and story-telling. Their show not only launched the new album, it showcased the sheer variety of songwriting & musical talents of everyone involved. The first thing that hits you when they’re firing from all cylinders is that this is not just a collection of people, they‘ve almost weaponised themselves into a unit, and there‘s no stopping them.
Gary Wilcox is a calm, entertaining presence in DCMI shows, with comedic timing that is equal to his music skills, and it is a blessing for him to be playing a show such as this, which gives him more room to talk than a festival set ordinarily does. That he has pulled this project together, and given it the scale it deserves, is a huge achievement. His performance on this evening was spirited, and if you’re not roused (and almost breathless) by the time he closes ‘Lessons In Equality, Pt. 1’ then I’m going to have to assume that you’re an android. In songs such as ‘In A Previous Life I Painted Portraits’, ‘The Provincial Athlete Throws A Race’, and ‘The Bugler’, Wilcox demonstrates songs that tell stories to a level worthy of Colin Meloy from The Decemberists, and the performances of those songs at this show did them justice.
Rob Haubus is a new member of the band, playing bass guitar expertly, having only played four shows with DCMI at this point (five by the time this is published), and he joins drummer & vocalist Sophie Bret Tasker in quality stage talk, negating any need for a heckler from the audience. The set is peppered with asides from the two of them while Wilcox talk between songs, and makes the evening all the more enjoyable.
Jack Tasker is invaluable in these shows, and indeed the DCMI project - in him, Gary Wilcox has found a perfect collaborator. Shredding guitars, playing piano, singing backing vocals, and providing songwriting challenges for Wilcox, (“On ‘Underdog Songs’, it was write a seven-minute nautical death-epic”, says Gary, “This time it was, write a song with the title ‘Here Lie The Bones Of Heroes‘…”) His steady presence on the stage is like an anchor.
Similarly, multi-instrumentalist Matt Plant is quiet & understated alongside his bandmates, but his expert touch throughout DCMI’s show is invaluable. His violin sings, swoops, and soars throughout the set, and the man can rock a bouzouki, a feat not many can manage. His, like Jack Tasker‘s, is a steadying hand.
The stand-out moment in the show, for me, is ‘To The Moon’. It’s an emotional staple both of the record and of the show, and Wilcox states that his voice in the song provides the pessimism, while Sophie’s voice is the optimism. Having discussed the state of the nations with Gary on several occasions over the last few months, we have been at similar low ebbs on the subject, I knew where this song was coming from. It was a beautiful performance, and I was wiping away tears as the song ended. The combination of those chorus lyrics with SBT’s voice singing them, and that musical arrangement underpinning them, is startlingly emotive.
No mention of a DCMI show can be complete without giving praise to Sophie Bret Tasker. Not content with pin-sharp, rock-solid drumming, her backing vocals are unassailable. She doesn’t just sing backing vocals, she lives them, so that ‘The Bugler’ is seemingly enacted both her and Gary, and it is ever likely that the narrative of ‘To The Moon’ is split the way it is, because her performances always give everything, which is what the song demands. You can’t sing it half-heartedly, and she sings with passion.
The show “ends” with the aforementioned ‘The Provincial Athlete Throws A Race’, released as a single last year as the album was completed, and after cries of “MORE!” they put a proper end to proceedings with a cover of Woody Guthrie’s ‘All You Fascists‘. You can‘t help singing along to “ALL YOU FASCISTS ARE BOUND TO LOSE…” as much out of blind hope that they‘re right as anything!
The night ends jubilant and we walk sweatily into the refreshing night air, wringing out our clothes & eagerly awaiting the first play of ‘I’m Broken, But I’m Fine’ on our stereos at home…