Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Smokin' Pipes

The Organ, The Little Civic, Wolverhampton, Monday November 14 2005.

Keyboard player Jenny Smyth looks devastated and seems on the verge of bursting into tears throughout the set. Bassist Ashley Webber displays a level of studied nonchalance of which Carlos D would be proud. On guitar Debora Cohen occasionally breaks rank and cracks a smile - but it's the kind of dazed half-smile you see on zombies in George A Romero films before they slice open a victim's head and take a soft scoop of brain tissue for dessert. As for Shelby Stocks on drums, she seems so far back on stage they might as well have left her back in Canada. These are four-fifths of Vancouver's The Organ and it's their daily grind to provide the vaguely ghoulish sideshow to the luminous larynx of lead singer Katie Stretch.

Apparently The Organ always look like a bored church on stage, although they could perhaps be forgiven on this occasion, as this last-minute poorly-publicised addition to their tour (a warm-up headliner before going on support to The Wedding Present) sees them playing to no more than about thirty people on a cold Monday night in Wolverhampton, not helped by Sigur Ros playing to a packed-house of similar-minded fans 15 miles down the road in Birmingham. Maybe the band also realise that all that deadpan disaffection isn't going to deflect any attention away from Stretch, who looks like the fresh-faced lovechild of an unholy union between Sharleen Spiteri and Gruff from Super Furry Animals, and is set to be the postergirl for lovelorn lesbian indiegrrrls for the foreseeable future. Katie seems to be the member of the band who's lost in the music in a good way, her clear, radiant vocals conjuring up a haunting, melancholic world of her own creation which enables her to zone out of her less-than-glamorous surroundings.

The Organ have been described as sounding like Joy Division if they were fronted by Laura Nyro, and while they're not quite incredible enough to justify that comparison, they come closer than anyone would have any right to expect on their debut ep 'Sinking Hearts'. The set tonight comprises tracks from that record plus a selection from debut album 'Grab That Gun' (available on import and at the shows) where the combination of jangling guitar and Katie's vocal delivery on tracks such as 'Brother' undeniably recall the spirit and sound of early Smiths recordings, with Jenny Smyth's retro organ stylings and Ashley Webber's propulsive basswork adding crucially distinctive elements.

Which is all enough to make staying in your bedsit alone feeling sorry for yourself seem like the new rock'n'roll. And yet, despite their atmospheric soundscapes and commendable thinking (the rhythm section were apparently hired for their looks and attitude before they learned their instruments), it's difficult to predict a commercial future in the UK beyond the counterculture niche they're currently carving. Perhaps best then not to hold our breath waiting for JK and Joel to engage in inane banter with Katie & Co. before revealing the likes of 'No-One Ever Looked So Dead' has topped the charts to an excited nation. But if that proves a stretch too far for The Organ they nevertheless seem more than capable of soundtracking the open yearning of their fanbase for many years to come.

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