Tuesday 14 April 2009

Brakes, The Royal

On the day that I get an email from British Sea Power, Eamon Hamilton’s former band, informing me that BSP will be playing Regents Park, where they allege Eamon buried 24 cans of Kestrel draught-flow in 2003 but can’t remember where. We happen to be in Derby to see Eamon and his band, Brakes.

Eamon is obviously a fan of The Voluntary Butler Scheme because again this one-man-band is supporting him. Rob doesn’t appear quite as shy as when we saw him last year and is quite chatty with the crowd but he’s still doesn’t look exactly comfortable up there. He’s probably trying too hard now and should just let his considerable talent do the talking. He tells us that he has actually been playing as part of a band but tonight it’s once again just him.

He must be doing better because he can now afford a chair, so that he can sit down as he tinkers away. Not that he can sell us any CD’s still; they’re out of stock, again. Finally though some of his stuff may be freely available, as he promises us he got an album finished and ready to come out.

If you’re not seen him, do so, what he does is really quite original. He’s a very skilful multi-instrumentalist. He uses a recording loop on what he calls his ‘no mates’ box to add his own backing tracks and backing vocals to his music. This would just be a gimmick if he wasn’t so damn good at it. He also plays a few simpler songs tonight, just him, his piano and some wonderfully whimsical lyrics. His half an hour is up far too soon.

Eamon must also be a fan of Camper Van Beethoven as the Brakes open up with ‘Shut Us Down’ a cover of one of their songs, not the first time he’s done a song of theirs. Then we’re into more familiar territory with the traditional opener (or always close to it) ‘Hi! How Are You?’. The recent single ‘Hey Hey’ follows and perhaps hints at a rockier, more frantic side to their third album ‘Touchdown’ which is due out next week. Generally though it’s business as usual, that is as in the usual eccentricity, insanity, fascinating lyrics and great tunes. The usual banter is there and we find out that Eamon is worryingly familiar with the Normanton area of Derby.

They seem to now have more songs, rather than just segments of songs. Some Brakes tracks famously last only a matter of seconds but some of the new stuff makes it over two minutes. That said the ultra brief ‘Consumer Producer’ is played twice back to back because the first rendition wasn’t tight enough. The equally short ‘Comma Comma Comma Full Stop’, a real crowd pleaser, is also played twice although the consensus here was that the first version was better but they resist a third. The briefness of some of their songs enables them to play 29 songs in just over an hour.

The fact that they can only pull small crowds like tonight, at the lesser of the two rooms at the Royal is mystifying. They’re odd to pigeon hole because they cross so many musical genres, often within the same song but a finer and more talented guitar band you would not find. Not that they seem bothered by the small attendance. You get the impression that Eamon and the boys would play to an empty room and still enjoy themselves.

I have positioned myself at guitarist Thomas White’s right elbow in full view of the set list for reference purposes and to pinch later of course. It makes blogging so much easier. They’re not normally a band that bothers with such order in their lives and the temptation for Eamon to deviate from the list visibly grows as the night goes on. 'Stick to the set list' urges Tom, yes please, not too many diversions, I need to blog this.

There’s a mini crisis when they realise that the pineapple isn’t on stage and playing ‘Porcupine or Pineapple?’ without it is unthinkable. Someone fetches it from the dressing room and then after a short appearance on stage, it is thrown back at him which he fumbles. Bruised pineapple then for tomorrow night's gig.

Then after their quirky new single ‘Don't Take Me To Space (Man)’, they do deviate and swap one of their new songs for another new song, which isn’t named, so stuffing up my set listing. Cheers boys.

Then they seem to have more time that they thought so ‘Hold Me In The River’ is added, how could they have thought not to play it. ‘No Return’ is as good and as poignant as ever, except perhaps when Eamon does it solo and oddly some people behind us go all Quo on us during ‘Jackson’. There’s slight consternation when ‘Cheney’ is omitted but as they say, there’s no point, the man's gone.

Then that’s about it, a couple of newies to finish including something called ‘Huevos Rancheros’, which I believe is a Mexican breakfast of eggs!

The Brakes are still producing consistent good, solid music and remain one of the most under appreciated live acts in the country, which is fine. Somehow seeing them somewhere less intimate just wouldn't be right.

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