Live at Bush Hall, London

Tonight, Sonic Cathedral, in their as always superbly selective way, elect to bring us former Slowdive and Mojave 3 man Neil Halstead (fresh from a dose of M25 traffic trouble in getting up from Cornwall, and powered by falafel) - performing, in its front-to-finish entirety, his third and latest solo album Palindrome Hunches, born to the world as it was, a little over a fortnight ago*. The decision behind the running order setlist he tells us, is because this is only the third opportunity he’s had to play with this line-up since recording the album together – perhaps a good thing as he admits they know the album better than he does, and whilst continuing on that theme of honesty, he confesses this also limits any tendency toward playing around with the way things work when left to his own devices. Likewise, I’m open to let it be known that this is my first taste of Halstead’s music in any way shape or form, perhaps too obsessed with Ride to give Slowdive a chance, and consequently missing Mojave 3 through association (or absence of), but I’m very glad to have been given the chance to review tonight’s performance because I left with a lot of love for what Halstead and his five musical companions do. First off, perhaps most obviously, there are some fair Nick Drake comparisons to be made, as have been made by others before – there’s that assured, hushed delivery and whispered wiseness behind every word thing that Drake had down, the sort that makes you feel warm and welcome, part of a conversation with someone who knows about this life and love stuff better than you do yet, imparting that wisdom without condescension and making you feel that one day, with time and experience, such knowledge will come to you to – there’s equally something Kurt Wagner of Lambchop about it in that respect too. Then there’s the playing, fingerpicked and folksome, intricate, ornate and heart-clenchingly beautiful, a complete product of our great folk traditions and so easy to admire. And finally there’s the band with their twinkles and tinkles, complimentary voices, sombre then soaring violin and, perhaps of most note, string bass, swooning and boinging along, all of which contribute to a subtle, ideal backing, and very reminiscent of the brilliant Robert Kirby’s arrangements on Drake’s Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter. In the confines of the low-lit old hall it works wonderfully, it’s a relaxed, comfortable and mature sound and sufficiently homely to make some without seats at ease enough to camp out on the floor in such safe company and surroundings. All-in-all, hugely enjoyable, enchanting, at times entrancing, and, always endearing from start to finish. * If you're in the UK you'll have to wait until November 5th for Palindrome Hunches i'm afraid.

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Neil Halstead
Sonic Cathedral