It’s hard to think of music less suited for the beery tension of a football match than the gentle country/folk stylings of The Lost Brothers. However, when the cheers of the World Cup crowd (gathered in large numbers inside and outside the Brudenell to watch tonight’s England game) coincide neatly with the ending of a song, it seems a fitting response to the Irish trio’s offerings.
Although songs occasionally trek down over-travelled paths, their firm grasp of melody and sweet harmonies inject appealing freshness to even the most worn-out ingredients; promisingly, two brand new tunes turn out to be set highpoints.
Faced with musical side projects, it’s usually wise to minimise expectations. Assembled by Richmond Fontaine’s Willy Vlautin (songwriting/guitar) and Sean Oldham (drums) as a vehicle for the remarkable voice of Amy Boone (of Austin, Texas band the Damnations), The Delines provide the exception to the rule.
The five-piece don’t hit the stage until the match has finished. Which is fitting, seeing as the Portland, Oregon five-piece’s music should come with a sticker warning against consumption before midnight. There are obvious links to the much-loved output of Richmond Fontaine, particularly once Lost Brother Dave Murphy – returning a favour by The Delines’s Cory Gray, who joined the opening act on keyboards and trumpet – adds the tear-stained tones of pedal steel (or “cheese grater”, as good-humoured Vlautin quips) to the final third of the set. However, Vlautin’s tales of poor choices, tough luck and odds stacked forever against you are here married to warm, twilit country-got-soul stylings. Imagine Stax in permanently blue ballad mode setting up shop in the disreputable part of town between a betting shop and a boozer with boarded-up windows, and you’re not far from the compelling combination of jaw-dropping beauty and raw hurt that runs through tonight’s proceedings.
As you might expect from a newly hatched outfit with just a handful of gigs under their collective belt, the five-piece (completed by bassist Freddy Truillo) start the set slightly tentatively; the first few tracks from debut ‘Colfax’ are played to order, with few diversions from studio versions. However, the band soon warm up and stretch out, unveiling a loose-yet-tight, uncluttered sound that sparkles brighter than the multitude of lights that adorns the back of the stage. In any case, songs the calibre of opener ‘Calling In’ – a slow-burning account of a couple choosing a gradual drift to the outer margins of society over the daily grind, a reminder of acclaimed novelist Vlautin’s ability to both cook up compelling character studies in few terse lines and come up with entirely cliché-free love songs – would most likely retain their hypnotic power even if played sideways or backwards.
This is quite clearly Vlautin’s strongest set of songs since RF classics ‘Post to Wire’ (2004) and ‘The Fitzgerald’ (2005), if not ever. Even so, Boone quickly emerges as the star of the show. In lesser hands, songs such as ‘I Won’t Slip Up’ – a snapshot of the trapped life of a girl who is doomed to break the title’s promise over and over again – would prove hopelessly depressing, but Boone’s bruised but unbroken performances inject a glimmer of hope and resilience to even the gloomiest of scenarios: a welcome commodity in a band equipped with heartbreakers such as ‘Oil Rigs at Night’. Her stunning, half-murmured rendition of ‘Flight 32’, meanwhile, provides that truly great singers get the point across without any need for histrionics or overstatement. ‘Colfax’ is a strong contender for album of the year rundowns. Compared to this, the studio takes sound like rough sketches.
Gig date: June 19