There’s something about drinking beer in a church that feels inherently wrong, particularly when surrounded by the friendly vestiges of church life; framed vicars smiling down from photos, and patchwork community projects about the walls. However, reverence is restored when the first bowed guitar of Duane Pitre’s Ensemble Drones trembles to the rafters, chasing the ebb and flow of blood through our veins. Violins, cellos, a harmonium and an accordion coax up the hairs on the back of necks the room over, inducing a strange physical tranquility that feels something akin to a warm head massage. The orchestra breathes and billows, hiccupping occasionally with the breathless parp of a clarinet, or voice-broken squeak of a violin, as light glints off the 14-strong orchestra like a starry constellation in the dark sepia magnificence of the church.
James Blackshaw’s 12-stringed fluidity recalls Radiohead’s lighter pessimistic moments, and is far softer live than on record (although punctuated by the fizz and crack of beer cans being opened periodically). His modest shyness is counterbalanced by the impassioned whooping and standing ovations at the end of each song – it’s a performance that could definitely see him join the Joanna Newsom-led roster of contemporary artists pushing the boundaries of folk. It’s safe to say that the cold, wood-backed pews of the church certainly weren’t responsible for sending shivers down spines this evening.
Anni Rossi is the first vocal act of the evening, her bobbing and weaving voice standing strong through an unusually (but pleasingly) swampy and dramatic sounding viola. She forgoes spindly stringed delicacy to adopt a tone more similar to that of Do Make Say Think, tapping out a beat on her stompbox, and trilling her lips as she sings of snow and deteriorating sentiment. Vocally, she’s a lot like Regina Spektor, with the same impetuous high pitch saving a song about liking “freezer pops and freezer units” from becoming overly twee. She sings “if I were to crack in half you would see, all of my bones and all of my teeth” so softly that the macabre image stands out a mile, and encores with a Nouvelle Vague-esque cover of The Cure’s In Between Days. They say you shouldn’t worship false icons, but a whole load of praise is indebted to these magical performers for such a beautiful evening.