Sunday, December 02, 2007

Silence Means This Much To Me

Emma Pollock/Derek Meins, The Little Civic, Wolverhampton, Wednesday November 28 2007, 8.30pm.

On arrival at the venue your chilled correspondent finds the Little Civic space has been slightly transformed since our last visit, with benches, tables and stools in what is normally a standing area. This impromptu restyling gives it the feel of something akin to a church hall, albeit with stray copies of The Fly in place of The Bible. The cosy feel continues with the unprepossessing figure of Derek Meins ambling on stage and launching into an a capella number unprompted and unannounced.

Derek, a legendary poet on his own MySpace page, accompanies himself on guitar for much of the rest of his support set which seeks to distinguish itself from the rest of the folkish singer-songwriting canon through off-kilter verbiage in the lyrics and some 'performance art' stylings that stop the audience from sitting too comfortably. This is most notable in a song called something like 'People Love Fucking' in which Derek comes over all Smeg Ryan by stopping mid-song to fake some orgasms. It's a performance sure to polarise opinions, but you can't argue he's not a bit different.

The first time your ageing altruist saw Emma Pollock was at a Delgados gig upstairs at the nearby Varsity around the time of their 'Peloton' release about ten years ago. Was one of the first gigs your socially-challenged scribe attended on his Jack Jones since college days so it sticks in the mind longer than it appears to have stayed with Emma, who says she can't remember ever playing here, and asks the audience if anybody had ever seen The Delgados play in Wolverhampton. Silence is the reply, because unlike the rather excitable young gentleman all too keen to share his Buckfast experiences with anybody who'll listen, your bashful blogger is as ever all too determined to keep a lower profile than Inch High Private Eye.

Towards the end of their reasonably successful career The Delgados had seemed to reach a stage under the influences of Dave Fridmann where their songs were being produced beyond bursting point, the subtleties and intricacies of the songwriting struggling to make themselves heard under the radio-friendly bombast. Emma's solo debut 'Watch The Fireworks' (out now on 4AD Records) sees her liberated from those constraints to deliver smashing, unpretentious pop tunes with the sharp, sweet zing of a pure citrus blast yet still infused with enough elegance and melancholy to appeal to a wide range of tastes. First single 'Adrenaline' is one of this year's genuine pop thrills, a giddy, galloping tune to rank alongside the likes of 'Manic Monday' and The Breeders' 'Cannonball', although strangely it's the follow-up 'Acid Test' which is greeted with the most recognition and enthusiasm on the night.

In the intervening ten years since our first acquaintance, your humble hack had forgotten that Emma brushes up quite the fox, wearing a colourful summer dress over thick tights. She manages the stage banter pretty well, with the combination of slight cockiness and self-deprecation we've become accustomed to seeing particularly from the Scottish indie glitterati. She even manages to get away with the faux pas of describing Canadians The New Pornographers as Americans by later making a joke of it.

Her band also cut personable figures and play with a commitment not always seen in session musicians supporting a solo act, as they run through most of the fine album, starting with 'If Silence Means That Much To You' and including strong showings from the graceful 'Limbs' and a swoonsome rendition of 'Fortune' and climaxing with the cautious hopefulness of 'The Optimist'. 'Watch The Fireworks' may have suffered from a slow start promotion-wise (Emma was touring the US with the aforementioned New Pornographers when the record was released in September) and may not have built enough momentum as yet to feature in many end-of-year best-of lists, but seeing the songs live, performed with charm and commitment, reinforces your blogger's belief it's one of this year's overlooked gems.

Finally, on leaving the venue, your hurrying hack notices that the gentleman sitting just behind him smelling of smoke is nobody other than the eccentric support act from earlier. And so, as ever, Dead Kenny was found to be living slightly beyond his Meins...

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Blogger Simon said...

Derek Meins used to be the singer in briefly hyped circa New Rock Revolution types Eastern Lane. I saw him open for the Maccabees and nobody quite knew what to make of him.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

Good spot, Simon, didnae know that.

Eastern Lane, eh? They had just the one really good song if I recall correctly. Released the dissappointing debut album before any hype could properly build up - always a mistake, I think...

10:16 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

At the moment it seems that you're seeing every gig I do, just a few days in advance...

Emma Pollock was good, but I was absolutely blown away by Derek Meins. A Marmite type of act, to be sure, but definitely tickled my taste buds.

2:16 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Review of the Oxford gig finally now up on SWSL...

2:50 AM  

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