Sunday, March 19, 2006

Hit Signals

The Shortwave Set/Marc Meon, Birmingham Bar Academy, Wednesday March 8 2006.

Just enter the venue as Marc Meon (aka Shearer), a tall and amiable Scotsman ambles onto the stage and begins a set of part-improvised gentle strumming and good-natured banter to an assembled throng of, um, about twenty people. The final tune he plays is an anti-war epic that is as affecting for its' melody as it is the sentiment. Marc, who has previously worked with Octopus and Adem, is working on putting together a new group (Meon) and is on the lookout for a keyboard player, if anyone's interested. Dead Kenny would recommend it as he imagines going on tour with this guy would be a lot of fun.

The Shortwave Set are something of London's best-kept secret, with pitifully low sales figures for their really rather fine debut album 'The Debt Collection' meaning they'll still be struggling to pay the rent for a good while yet. Still, it isn't tonight's dissappointing turnout that's on Andy's mind as they make their way on stage but finding out the final score in the Arsenal v Real Madrid Champions League second leg. The relief is palpable when he finds out the Gooners had gone through thanks to holding on to a goal-less draw and the band are able to settle in to acoustically recreating the marvels of their sample-heavy record in a fuzzy feelgood afterglow.

Luckily for us, Gooners fans The Shortwave Set owe more to Arsene Wenger than George Graham in that they've got an eye for an unusual bargain (most of their instruments have been rescued from thrift shops); they play with no shortage of style and swagger and they have their own hot Scandinavian import in lead singer Ulrikka (wearing a demure dress with DIY batwing sleeves that has Alison purring with envy). Ulrikka's striking vocals have something of the Dusty Springfield about them and they certainly illuminate songs like 'Is It Any Wonder?'; recent melancholic single 'Repeat to Fade' and a fine 'Roadside' delivery which is your correspondent's personal highlight of the evening. The show's most pleasant revelation is a samba-style reworking of album closer 'Yr Room' while tracks like 'Better Than Bad' and 'In Your Debt' have a more distinctive appeal live than they do (initially, at least) on record.

What do they sound like? Well, if you can imagine Saint-Etienne setting about songs that resemble 60s torch song standards and Eurovision classics using tinpot instruments and samples that might go somewhere near giving you the picture, though that description probably doesn't do justice to the charm and flair with which they pull it off. It's that ol' va va voom, n'est-ce pas, Thierry?

Probably the most impressive aspect of the show is how they turn the low turnout to their advantage. Ulrikka draws us all nearer to the stage for a more intimate ambience, while Andy butters us up by exclaiming how great it is that 'all the trendiest people in Birmingham [are] under one roof' (he's clearly caught a glimpse of Dead Kenny in the corner of his eye - well spotted, that fella!). They may not yet be ready for filling out state-of-the-art stadia like Ashburton Grove but with this standard of tune and attitude (how many bands personally model the different sizes of t-shirts for your personal deliberation?) they'd better be pulling in the crowds soon otherwise Dead Kenny for one will be raising his arm, claiming 'Offside!' and calling the referee an Arctic Monkey.


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