Gig Review by Andrew Lindsay with Photography by John Bentley

Manchester’s music scene is buzzing. Last night it was the old guard – Patti Smith at the Apollo; The Rolling Stones and Richard Ashcroft playing at Old Trafford. Tonight LCD Soundsystem grace the Apollo and here at the Deaf Institute we have American singer-songwriter, Laura Veirs.

Laura Veirs, Manchester Deaf Institute, 6 June 2018

It is my first time at this intimate Grade II listed Victorian venue gamely surviving amid the Metropolitan University’s monster construction project. Acoustics in the dome-shaped music hall are very good, the vibe shabby chic and friendly.

Opening act for all the European dates is London-based newcomer Amaroun (aka Jay Brown – the sobriquet is inspired by the Maroons, Jamaican escaped slaves. Her short set features songs about coming out, mental turmoil and indecision. Playing just an acoustic guitar the voice is the central feature and is particularly striking on ‘Careful’. She’s joined by a keyboardist for the last two numbers and their harmonies work very effectively on the ‘I’m not that kind of girl’ refrain.

Amaroun, Manchester Deaf Institute, 6 June 2018

Laura Veirs has been recording for some twenty – odd years, only coming to my notice with the 2015 collaborative album with k.d. lang and Neko Case. Her most recent album – The Lookout – has been widely praised and was Uncut magazine’s album of the month in May 2018.

Much of that album is played tonight and the four-piece band kick off with a gentle low key lament to the bones and opalescent gaze of ‘Margaret Sands’.

One track from the firm of case/lang/veirs makes an early appearance in the set. It is prefaced by a jolly tale of how lang’s proposal to name the band ‘The Camel Toes’ was ditched because no one could agree on the album cover. ‘Song for Judee’ is Veirs’ tribute to the long gone but not forgotten singer-songwriter Judee Sill. The bouncy chorus offsets the darkness of Sill’s tragic life. The feel of the song is redolent of Fleet Foxes as is the following ‘I Can See Your Tracks’ taken from 2005’s July Flame. Like the Foxes, Veirs’ beautifully sung lyrics feature frequent nature references – fire, rain, wind, storms. The YouTube video for the song is charming and well worth seeking out (perhaps Veirs can include it in the backdrop?)

Laura Veirs, Manchester Deaf Institute, 6 June 2018

The band, all from the Oregon/Washington area, are introduced at this point – Alex Guy (viola and keys); Eli Moore (guitar/bass) and Matt Berger (drums).

‘Sun Is King’ is a highlight. It has a languid, summery feel perfectly matching the mood of the evening. ‘When You Give Your Heart’ raises the tempo and swings.

There’s a mix up as the band prepare to launch into a number that is not planned by Veirs. “What song are we doing next?” asks Alex Guy. Veirs lightly responds: “The one on the setlist… follow the rules!”. Eventually ‘Spelunking’ is delivered and redeemed by a gorgeous guitar interlude. The informality of the band works. Veirs has an engaging presence. At various times during the performance she invites the audience to ask questions; says hello to her young sons back home (the show is being streamed live); looks forward to having a shower, thanks her bodhisattva Bernie and muses about lasagne and her inability to play the keyboard (although she gives it a good shot).

Laura Veirs, Manchester Deaf Institute, 6 June 2018

On ‘Heavy Petals’, seemingly an elegy for David Bowie, there’s a tendency to restraint. This one is ready soar and would benefit by letting rip on the vocal. That it feels inhibited maybe due to the fact that this is their fifth gig in as many days.

‘The Meadow’ has a stark simplicity both lyrically and musically and is another highlight as we are swept into a pastoral paradise where ‘we knew it wouldn’t last, but it was beautiful’. The hypnotic groove of ‘White Cherry’ gives way to the buoyant ‘Watch Fire’ (shades of The Kinks’ ‘David Watts’ as the band take flight into a louder, rockier closing segment with Veirs strapping on her electric guitar.

It is ‘clubbing night’ at the Deaf Institute. The curfew is 10.15pm so only time for one encore (a cover of Daniel Johnston’s ‘True Love Will Find You’) and plugs for Veirs’ recent children’s book on Elizabeth Cotton and her podcasts on female musicians juggling family, recording and touring (not to mention writing books and hosting podcasts). How does she do it all?

Laura Veirs, Manchester Deaf Institute, 6 June 2018

Sadly ‘Zozobra’, the closing track of The Lookout with its message of hope and rebirth, is not included in the set. Nonetheless the shifting music tonight has been iridescent and many-hued against the tales of darkness. Opalescent indeed.

Setlists:
Amoroun: Bed Bugs, Infatuation; Made A Fire; Careful; Simple; Indecisive.
Laura Veirs: Margaret Sands; Everybody Needs You; Song for Judee; I Can See Your Tracks; When It Grows Darkest; Sun Is King; When You Give Your Heart; Spelunking; Seven Falls; Heavy Petals; The Meadow; White Cherry; Galaxies; Watch Fire; July Flame; Pink Light. Encore: True Love Will Find You In the End.

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