Review by Lydia Fitzer with Photography by Rob Hadley

Walk as if you’re heading to the O2 Institute, periodically staggering in the wind and tightening your hood against the rain. Turn onto a side-street. Experience a minute or so of confusion – Google Maps insists that you’ve arrived, but there seems to be nothing here. Notice a couple of people go through an inconspicuous door. There’s a little sign above it; ‘The Crossing’.

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Now that you’re indoors, soaked in rainwater but unfailingly optimistic, you have a chance to appreciate this hidden gem of a venue. The room is simple but large. The ceiling is high and the stage feels spacious – the whole effect is airy, even despite the fact that this gig is sold out and you have no personal space. The venue feels a bit like the Tardis; bigger on the inside.

Such is my experience thus far. I settle in at the front of the crowd and prepare to enjoy Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore’s first collaborative work, ‘Ghost Forests’. This album is actually brand new! What a privilege to hear it performed on the day of its release. It has a sound that I can only describe as Folk Fairytale. Every song sounds like a lullaby.

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They open with ‘Between Two Worlds’, the first track of ‘Ghost Forests’. It’s an entirely instrumental piece. It’s incredibly gentle, like lying on a hammock during a balmy night. The lingering rhythm allows listeners to admire the pairing of Baird’s guitar with Lattimore’s ethereal harp. They follow this with ‘In Cedars’, which is my favourite song of the album. The harp is especially prominent in this, and gives the most beautiful classic/lullaby melody. After a while the vocals set in. Baird has a voice as soft as a feather, and Lattimore’s harmonies give an increasingly magical dimension.

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Their work is subtle and serene. The listeners should be spellbound. Unfortunately, the crowd is fickle and restless. Chatter, chatter. The sound of talking grows until it threatens to overpower the music. Even for the most gifted artists, the role of ‘support act’ can be a cruel mistress.

I want to hear Baird and Lattimore at an intimate venue, surrounded by their own true fans. I want to hear them outdoors, by the crackle of a campfire. I want to hear them in my earphones at 3am when I can’t sleep. When they perform, they deserve to be heard.

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Kurt Vile emerges, partly hidden behind a mop of hair, along with his backing band The Violators. They open with ‘Loading Zones’, the first track of his latest album ‘Bottle It In’, and certainly the most popular. It is pretty awesome – it has all the best of his finest work. The instrumental is strong but relaxed, and cleanly played. His voice is powerful but mellow. He sings, almost speaking, plucks his guitar with effortless skill. His music is easy to enjoy; smooth, quirky and assured.

I like ‘Bottle It In’ because it was written unaffectedly. It’s somehow genuine – as genuine as a first album, with a quality born of the experience of his eighth. He performs unaffectedly too. He’s not the most energetic on stage, but the chilled-out vibe suits his sound. Listening to him is a simple pleasure.

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Vile plays a few more songs from ‘Bottle It In’ – I become especially absorbed by the concept of ‘Bassackwards’ – and a range of older songs. His performance of ‘I’m an Outlaw’ from his 2015 album ‘b’lieve i’m goin down…’ is particularly enjoyable. It has an old western feel. He sings, “I’m an outlaw, whoop!” It’s jaunty and gleeful, bringing to mind a charismatic bandit. You know. The kind that’s bad news, but still totally irresistible.

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The highlight of the evening comes during the encore. As the music begins the crowd squeals with delight. Everyone in the room moves to the sound (as much as they’re able. There’s about three square inches of space per person). Have you guessed what it is? It is, of course, ‘Pretty Pimpin’. This is another from ‘b’lieve i’m goin down…’, and is Vile’s most popular and successful song without a doubt. It really is the best of his work. It makes fending off a migraine and breaking my umbrella to be here all worthwhile. What a beauty. If you haven’t listened to it, you should. It was born a classic. Deceptively simple, with a story that takes you on a journey. I put down my pen and let the music wash me away.

The set ends with ‘Freak Train’ from the 2009 album ‘Childish Prodigy’. The abrupt rhythm almost feels like the juddering of a train underfoot. Vile channels a grungy rock ’n’ roll power in his vocal. Energy pulses through the song. You could freak out to this, if only there were space! The music ends on a cacophony of sound, with alto sax for good measure. Everything is better when there’s a saxophone involved.

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See the complete photoset from tonight’s gig here.

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