Live at The Star & Shadow Cinema, Newcastle
Just over two years since my first Allo Darlin' live experience I gleefully return to the same venue for seconds. The gig is sold out (so was the last one from memory), so I can only assume that the band love it here and are sticking with it whilst their popularity will just about allow it. It's hard to blame them really because The Star and Shadow Cinema is a fantastic venue, Newcastle's hidden gem and a true co-operative that relies on volunteers to keep the place going. They may skimp on the heating bill (it's freezing when I arrive) but they are safe in the knowledge that these three bands will gradually warm everyone up. First on are Baker Island, the only local band on the bill who turn out to be the odd-ones-out in terms of style. They're raw, often slightly off tune but there's a positive energy about the band which allows them to pull off a whole load of complex time and key changes to quite dazzling effect. It's probably what the original punks would've sounded like if they'd bothered to learn more than three chords. Their frontman and keyboard/effects-man (I couldn't find their names anywhere on the internet) seem like the heart of Baker Island but special mention should also go to their bassist who lets rip on several occasions in quite spectacular fashion. In stark contrast came Making Marks, a Norwegian four-piece who are supporting Allo Darlin' on all of these UK dates, so it's perhaps unsurprising that their set is well honed and in perfect clarity/tune. After-all, although these Scandinavians look fresh faced, they've actually been at it for some time, previously recording as My Little Pony and releasing a handful of albums. They've since rebooted themselves and A Thousand Half-Truths is seen as their official "debut". Their music is predominantly delicate but they occasionally slip into boisterous rampage mainly courtesy of drummer Jørgen Nordby who's sparingly let off the leash. Their set is full of pitch perfect two part harmonies and upbeat Belle & Sebastian pop melodies. It's not that straight forward though and keyboard player/singer Nina Bø adds a nice bit of melodica and there's also some lovely songs sung in their native tongue which remind me of Super Fury Animals in Mwng mode. Singer Ola Innset has a breezy confidence and stage presence which allows him to command the room with numerous crowd pleasing anecdotes between songs. There's talk of fantasy football, language barriers and a viking joke which I'd imagine has been told numerous times but still goes down a treat. He also asks for a round of applause for his "final" guitar solo of the tour which the crowd duly indulge him (the band even add an extra few bars to account for this spontaneous euphoric response). Headliners Allo Darlin' are finally back on the road promoting their long awaited, and excellent, third album We Come From The Same Place. Perhaps aware of the refined nature of the last act they actually apologise quite early on for being too loud...not something you see everyday. Their set is a well proportioned mix of all three LPs, and they've got to the point now where the audience seem to correctly regard tracks from their last album, Europe, as modern classics. There's the requisite solo performance of "Tallulah" which I'm sure makes a man next to me blub. In my opinion though, the real classic here is "Bright Eyes", a duet between Elizabeth Morris and Paul Rains that appears on their latest record. Rains' guitar solo sounds even more devastating than it does in the studio and the rapport between the two vocalists is a joy to behold. "Crickets In The Rain" is also up there with the best of them, a kind of anti-nostalgia anthem which receives an extra shot of pop adrenaline when played live. They end their main set with one of their aforementioned classics "Capricornia", and the crowd are in full voice. An encore is insisted upon (after all, we can all see them hiding round the corner), and they come back on for "My Heart Is A Drummer" which features a ridiculous funk bass section from the ever happy-chappy Bill Botting, who just like the Rains/Morris pairing, works tirelessly with drummer Michael Collins to provide the band's all important backbone. This sends the crowd off into the night, temporarily forgetting their Sunday night blues. A job well done.