Slow Club Christmas Show
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The first tentative sounds of the set come tucked away to the right of the stage as Slow Club huddle together to share a keyboard, sending a furtive, faltering lullaby off into the night. Looking like a brother and sister on Christmas Day, showing the family their debut performance on the morning’s big present – all straight backs and carefully enunciated vocals – it’s an effect that’s further enhanced by the surroundings, framed as they are by the Union Chapel's cavernous ceiling and portentous stained glass window centrepiece. Even the Christmas tree to the side of the stage threatens to overshadow them as it leans on the side with the nonchalant assurance that it and the surroundings are still the dominant attraction.
As they move to their main instruments, Charles Watson on guitar and Rebecca Taylor on drums and percussion, they’re just about to begin when she stops in shock and quickly skips off the stage to the back, with Charles telling the audience that she’s come on without her sticks. Retrieved, they begin, slowly building and looking slightly pained to raise their vocals above a whisper as if they’re slightly embarrassed to do anything as attention seeking as shout. Later, Rebecca struggles with her guitar strap and apologises to the audience on her right for repeatedly getting her bum in their sights. Charles regales us with tales of the day’s taxi rides, and when it comes to taking off his coat, does a caricature of sexy strip, swinging it over his head before it falls to the floor and then quietly regrets it. "I wish I hadn’t done that". In many ways they’re the perfect double act, her slightly hyper and scattered, tongue tripping over thoughts as she moves from one thing to the next, and him at her side, more still and deadpan with a wry smile flashed towards the antics on the other side of the stage.
And it’s undoubtedly all part of the allure and the appeal of Slow Club as charming and entertaining hosts. But to see their endearing nature as the sum of the Slow Club live experience and the band itself is to do them a disservice and miss the point completely. Because as anyone that’s heard the album or seen a live show will know, the thing that makes Slow Club such a special band is the constant interplay between opposing counterpoints. So they begin hushed and static at the side of the stage but end the gig with a shout and a bang, making the stage their dance floor with a rousing version of ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’. They faff and fuss with their instruments at the start of each song as if they’re seeing them for the first time, but at the first note become eye-catching and accomplished musicians, Charles with his deft and graceful guitar work and Rebecca with entrancing vocals that soar to the highest points of the church or draw us all close at a whisper. Her stage presence particularly is full of contrast, between songs often comically struggling for composure and constantly looking set to fall apart, when suddenly, setting the audience with an assured stare, knee resting on the bass drum and arm draped over the mic stand, she’s a picture of classic Hollywood poise, coming off like she’d give Bogart nightmares. They’re funny and gregarious in one moment and then stop dead to break your heart in the next, Charles’ string supported slow burn solo rendition of ‘All Alone At Christmas’, possibly the highlight of the night. And whilst the cynical, uninitiated, and the just plain wrong might read it all as a contrived faux naivety, the truth is, that in the same way Tom Waits is interested in saying brutal things with beautiful melodies and can go from being a sawdust stomping, scrapheap voiced prophet in one moment, to a minutia obsessed, crazed-cabaret cracker of wise in the next, we’re just lucky to be in the presence of a band with so much texture and variety in their performance and craft.
As they leave the stage, we’ve all been charmed and entertained by a pair of ramshackle raconteurs, but also been witness to a pair of adept writers and performers, teasing out their abilities and wrapping us up in their unique and inimitable way with a song. Proper wonderful stuff.
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