The Staves + Mikaela Davis @ Gorilla, Manchester – 31 May 2017

Posted by Gig Junkies on Wednesday May 31, 2017 Under Folk, Indie

Review and photography by John Hayhurst.

The three Staveley-Taylor sisters return from America to play their first gig in the UK for almost a year. An emotional comeback in Manchester for The Staves, and they bring the first ever indie harpist Mikaela Davis along for the ride.

The Staves, if you didn’t know them already are 3 sisters from Watford whose voices blend together like the finest silk, and having released one of the best albums in 2015 (the Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) produced ‘If I Was’) after a few local shows and festival dates, promptly disappeared off to America for about a year and based themselves in Minneapolis.  However, last night they properly announced their return to UK soil with a date in Manchester at Gorilla. It’s a small venue for them and we are queued around the block awaiting more stringent security checking after the tragic events at the Arena only last week.

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Once in, we are greeted with a view of a lot of wires and equipment on the small stage including a huge harp. There’s a girl frantically trying to change a string and searching through her bag of spares with her mobile light for the right one.

This is Mikaela Davis, the Staves played with her in the USA and wanted to bring her over for her first UK visit. Tonight is her first ever show here and she quickly stuns this Manchester crowd with several flourishes on the strings and then her voice, hypnotic and beautiful. If you imagine Stevie Nicks in her mid 20’s all floaty big sleeved dresses and trouser suits and then picture her at a harp singing to a pulsating strum and psychedelic rhythms, you get a sense of what we were all watching and hearing, it’s quite different to anything I’ve ever experienced before. Of course, I’ve seen harps played in a choral setting, but she’s almost playing this instrument like a guitarist, short of picking it up and throwing it around the room. A few handy loop or effects pedals ensure that this young wizard keeps the normal chattering crowd totally glued to the stage, “Thanks for being so quiet” she says after the first tune, “it’s a little strange but I like it”. The British reserve is in full flow until she says “I’m not sure if I have time for another” which is met by a barrage of shouts for more and she obliges by playing what sounded like a blues tune in quick time. Psychedelic harps, it’s the future I tell you!.

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Mikaela also does a nice job of selling her merch that she has brought to the UK, some gold glittery tapes, that’s…cassette tapes – apparently making a comeback in the states, but there is a download code when you buy a tape for some different tunes. Either way Mikaela Davis is a name you need to remember to catch when she is next over here touring.

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Don Henley’s ‘Boys of Summer’ is blasting over the speakers as the Staveley-Taylor sisters walk on to the stage. When we last met they had a 3 piece backing band, tonight it is just one additional person on the drums, the rest will be covered by the 3 ladies and some added technology.

The show starts with ‘Outlaw’ one of the newer tracks from last years ‘Sleeping In a Car’ EP, in fact tonight we also get ‘Roses’ and the title track, the emphasis perhaps being on songs we haven’t heard live before. There is a distinct rawness to the sound, a more stripped back approach with sometimes just a single guitar progression than a full-on harmonies opener, more prevalent during the ‘Steady’ opening verse where it was purely Camilla and her guitar creating a spatial emotional sense. Camilla does create much of the layering of vocals with loops and pedals at her feet and on the sampler deck next to her.

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Such is the attraction of the sublime vocals of Emily, Jessica and Camilla that we have a general “husssssh…” around the room. I’ve been to many shows recently where the incessant backtalk destroys the calm ambience, but here, there was much more respect and a feeling of excited anticipation that halted any gossip mid chat when the next track is about to start. It doesn’t stop the banter on stage though, and failed “Are you a Virgin?” Monty Python jokes aside, you could tell they were having such a great time, lots of little winks between Camilla and Emily, frequent bursts of laughter especially when the mic fell apart during the middle of one song. It’s those little things that make a difference with an intimate show and these 3 artists have no diva pretentions, they are more likely to flick a middle finger than get upset about the little things.

A fair chunk of the ‘If I Was’ album got played tonight and ‘Blood I Bled’ makes way for a highlight for me – ‘No Me No You No More’. This song is a goosebumps inducing track that starts with one single hurtful vocal from Jessica, “How can you tell me that you don’t love me like you did before?”. Clever use of a loop ensures that the Staves can manipulate the vocal layers and produce ever inspiring ranges of exquisite harmonies during the following track ‘Let Me Down’, it doesn’t get much more perfect than this.

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The time went by so quickly and before you knew it they had rattled through ‘Teeth White’ and started ‘Tired as F***’, which is the title of this short tour, although even flying in from their new temporary home in Minneapolis, they showed no sign of a lack of energy, genuinely keen to play gigs back in their home country. They skipped off and returned for a stunning encore.

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Just a couple of mics, and all 3 sisters grouped together to deliver an emotional ‘Gone Tomorrow’ which in the light of recent events could take on new meaning, and then they continue the journey back to where they started with the Mexico EP, and its title track. It’s pure beauty, simple, effortless and yet absolute bliss on the ears. A single guitar strum, great harmonies and even the audience joining in with the chorus. What a comeback show, and I think they were genuinely surprised with the audience reactions right at the end, even with their goodbye message telling everyone not to forget to vote Labour next week.

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There is a popular myth around sibling vocals being able to mesh together better and many examples around of this, probably more to do with years of singing together, perfecting the harmonies around the kitchen table. The Staveley-Taylor brood are a trio of both beauty and harmonious melody, pitch perfect and crystal clear. I fear that the Americans have spotted this before us here, and I hope they do manage to return home again within the next 12 months, if not, you had better get yourselves to Bushtock Festival on 10th June to catch them headlining at Shepherds Bush Empire.

For more photos from tonight’s gig visit our Flickr page.


Setlist:
Outlaw
Steady
Roses
Black & White
Sleeping in a Car
Train Tracks
Damn it All
Blood I Bled
Make it Holy
No Me, No You, No More
Let Me Down
Teeth White
Tired as F***

Encore:
Gone Tomorrow
Mexico

LISTENING:
If I Was [2015]
Sleeping in a Car EP [2016]

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