Live at Shepherds Bush Empire, London

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Seeing Neil Halstead and his bands play live is a wonderful thing. His songs, simply put, are enchantingly beautiful – anyone who’s heard Palindrome Hunches will know this and, without a doubt, the few times I’ve seen them so far, they make a superb fist of playing them live. Working through a brief snapshot of the new album, it’s lovely, low-key, hushed, folkie brilliance with a heart as big as a horse, instantly loveable, and a shame that they are only with us here for half-an-hour.“Sometimes you have really amazing sex, sometimes really bad sex, this is like OK sex” – this is Mark Kozelek’s verdict of the gig, delivered half way toward the end, in his inimitable darkly-droll Ohioan drawl. I’m inclined to disagree – not so much in respect of defining this performance in the terms set out in his analogy, but in so much as I think this is considerably better than OK. Maybe that’s because, to my shame, I’ve never heard anything he’s put his hand to before – never listened to Red House Painters or Sun Kil Moon despite knowing people who do, and love them. Maybe if I had then perhaps I’d feel the same. Maybe this is routine, after all he does thank everyone for turning out to see exactly what they see whenever he plays, exactly what they saw last time he was in town, “I like singing and playing nylon-string guitar”. He explains why he never plays with a band (because it’s a nightmare organising a bus full of people, rehearsing for months, and endless soundchecks “hearing someone hit a snare drum for 45 minutes”), and why he’s happy gigging alone (It’s not lonely – for him taking a band on tour and having guys stood around all day constantly looking at their phones is much more depressing). So he plays alone, for 2 hours or so, and, for someone new to all this like me, it’s utterly, utterly spellbinding from start to finish. Guessing from the feel inside the room, it is for everyone else too.