Live at The Cluny, Newcastle
The sadly defunct Riverside venue in Newcastle was obviously close to people's hearts. This gig was a fundraiser for a new documentary on the venue which is currently in production, and not only had they managed to coax Dubstar out of retirement for their first gig in 14 years, but they’d brought Kathryn Williams and David Brewis (Field Music/School Of Language) along for the ride. At five English pounds for a ticket this must surely have been the bargain of the year. All of the bands on the bill (including openers St James Infirmary, who I missed due to them seemingly taking the stage the minute the doors opened) had some connection with the Riverside, either by playing there, getting their big break there or just hanging out there. Kathryn Williams, on a break from her excellent The Pond project, has one of those voices that is just perfectly simple, there's no need to prove any points with random warbling here and she ran through some of her impressive back catalogue with aplomb. The loop pedal was used to great effect during "Little Black Numbers" and she dryly introduced "Flicker" as the song that gets played on Casualty, but always during a death scene. The only down point of the set was the annoying din from the loud-talkers in the balcony area (I think, ironically, this was mainly due to people loudly reminiscing about old times at the Riverside, but still...). David Brewis was next up and he certainly didn't fall into the trap of oversimplifying songs for a solo environment, he seemed to relish the challenge of playing them just as intricately as they appear in their recorded form, be it with Field Music or his solo project, School Of Language. It's a great skill and Brewis is an assured and funny performer, not even coming unstuck when a vigilante man at the back shouts "WILL YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP!" to the loud-talkers above who persist with their off-putting chatter. The set included "Choosing Sides", "Rockist Part 4" and "Extended Holiday", the latter of which had Brewis pulling off a whistling solo and admitting that he had to learn the song via a YouTube clip. The four years of rustiness built up since the last School Of Language record didn't show, it just whet the appetite for the next one. Dubstar took the stage with little fanfare, a cover of The Passions' "I'm in Love with a German Film Star" and a sound which, backed by Chris Wilkie's stark, moody, reverb-driven guitar was as relevant and vital as ever. Singer Sarah Blackwood looked and sounded like she'd never been away, and seemed genuinely overwhelmed as the band ripped through a short set of hits ("Anywhere", "Not So Manic Now", "Stars"). These were only broken up by a new song which had Blackwood trembling with nerves, but there was no need to worry as it was a pure pop master class, every bit as catchy as the oldies that went down such a storm. It's important to note that the whole performance was underpinned by Steve Hillier's unmistakable and crucial synth hooks and thudding beats. The show came to an end with a revved up version of "Disgraceful" and a sedated encore of "The Elevator Song". This may not have been a comeback of Heaton Park proportions but I'm pretty sure that the crowd went home knowing that they'd witnessed a humble triumph. Click here to read more about "RIVERSIDE - The True Story of a Truly Independent Music Venue"