Gig Review and Photography by John Bentley

Cate Le Bon at Hare & Hounds

Three albums on, and despite work with the likes of Neon Neon (Gruff Rhys) and Manic Street Preachers, Cate Le Bon is still, alas, a well kept secret, but for how long? Fortunately for us punters in the meantime, this means that we can still get to see her perform in small and intimate venues like The Hare and Hounds.

Sea Lion at Hare & Hounds

It takes a while to discover who the support is tonight, as it’s not mentioned in any of the publicity material. It turns out to be Swedish songwriter Linn Österberg, known as Sea Lion. She takes the stage unassumingly, armed only with a guitar, and beguiles the audience with one of the most fragile, soft voices you will ever hear. It’s difficult to assimilate a new artist at one hearing, of course, but since the gig I’ve had a listen to her work on the web. Her recorded work is very subtle, interesting and carefully arranged, but I’m not sure that it really came over live with the rather basic and harsh backing of an electric guitar. An acoustic instrument might have worked better, in the absence of a backing band.

Cate Le Bon at Hare & Hounds

Cate Le Bon’s voice has been frequently compared with that of Velvet Underground chanteuse, Nico, and she is not surprisingly rather fed up with this constant reference. Some of the comparison may be because both women have sung with a strong accent – in Cate’s case, Welsh, and in Nico’s, German. However, once you’ve listen to Le Bon’s music, you realise that the comparison is rather superficial and she is her own very distinctive artist.

Cate Le Bon at Hare & Hounds

Le Bon’s latest album, ‘Mug Museum’, has drawn wide praise and she’s obviously pleased with it, as she plays most of the songs on it tonight, making only a few excursions back to her second album, and performing nothing from the first. Maybe it’s a strong statement that she has moved on artistically. Cate has recently relocated from Wales to the west coast of the USA, which must have been a big change in her life. ‘Mug Museum’ seems more stripped down and focussed than previous albums, particularly in terms of arrangements and instrumentation. A good example tonight is the sparse sounding opener, ‘No God’. Fortunately the move to the USA has not made her less idiosyncratic. Her lyrics remain pithy, sometimes playful and at other times can deal with very serious subjects like death. And the band is as wonderfully spiky as ever.

Cate Le Bon at Hare & Hounds

Cate’s band have a distinctive experimental sound and indie flavour, very British, but owing something to the Velvet Underground (listen to ‘Cuckoo Through the Walls’, for example), 60s and 70s psychedelic and experimental bands and, from the 90s, Pavement. She seems to mine similar veins of influence to the late lamented Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, who also hailed from Wales, of course. However, she is no copyist, but moulds her various influences to create her own style.

Cate Le Bon at Hare & Hounds

The combination of Cate’s guitar and the keyboard and guitar played by boyfriend Huw Evans very much create the sound tonight. Indeed, the reedy drone of the organ on many tracks particularly sets the band’s sound apart from contemporaries. Not only are the songs great and Cate’s voice impeccable (even rising well to the high notes on ‘Duke’), but the instrumental parts and the interplay of the band members are a real pleasure to watch and listen to. For example, there’s ‘Mirror Me’, with a great fuzzy guitar solo, repeating drony organ parts and Mo Tucker-style drumming.

Cate Le Bon at Hare & Hounds

Tonight is another example of how seeing an album performed really adds to the understanding and appreciation of it. Le Bon stays on guitar for most of the gig, but picks up a set of bells for “The Man I Wanted”, from her second album ‘Cyrk’. She seems a little shy, but nevertheless easily charms the audience. There is little chat, but a distinct feeling of respect for the performers is in the air. She informs us that this is the penultimate gig on the UK tour and that it is going well, thanks for asking (titters from the crowd). Before the final number, she announces “this is potentially our last song, but if you scream we may play more”. Obviously the screaming is adequate and the encore finishes with old favourite, ‘Fold the Cloth’.

Setlist: No God; Cyrk; Are You With Me Now?; I Can’t Help You; Duke; Mirror Me; Sisters; What Is Worse; The Man I Wanted; Cuckoo Through the Walls; Wild / Dogs In The Snow; Encore: Solitude; Fold The Cloth

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