Monday, 24 October 2011

Esmerine (live at Electrowerkz) live review

Esmerine would play their first London gig at Electrowerkz, an idiosyncratic venue renowned for its goth nights and clubbing. Given their hiatus, it was perhaps a wonder that the band were here at all- but Esmerine enjoyed the breath of new life in 2011 when expanding from a duo to a five piece. Here, perhaps suitably, the material found an appropriate embellishment in the fuller ensemble. The tour came on the back of a new record, the excellent and indeed surprising La Lechuza- an album which became a personal favourite this year. Drawing from chamber music as much as ballad and folk, the record moved Esmerine's sound beyond the 'post rock lite' and into a more rounded whole. Lyric and vocal contributions (including a performance from the late Lhasa De Sela, for whom the record is dedicated) tinged La Lechuza with bittersweet, knowing memories, a sense of time and place and loss. If the record is sad, then it is also profoundly beautiful.

We'd gathered in the dark second chamber and were sat cross legged on the floor before Esmerine walked through us from the venue's rear and took their instruments. There was no 'backstage' area to speak of, and it was lovely to meet the group before the gig, hustled by the merch stall. I've long been of the belief that a band should never employ roadies, that in doing so you kiss goodbye to any punk rock sense of authenticity, and there was a similarly unpretentious atmosphere here. Between songs, cellist Beckie Foon (also of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, formerly of A Silver Mt Zion) would speak to us without a microphone, and in truth the stage setting seemed more of a formality than a theatrical necessity.

Esmerine played for just under an hour, a set comprised of numbers taken mostly from La Lechuza but the group pleasingly paid dues to their strong back catalogue too. Indeed, their debut album If Only A Sweet Surrender To The Nights To Come Be True was represented well, the stunning drawn out beauty of 'There Were No Footprints In The Dust Behind Them' given an early recital in the billing. But it was the material from La Lechuza that resonated strongest, in particular the absolutely joyous 'Trampolin'. A jangly ditty; centred around harmonised marimba and harp notes and underpinned by rising, trembling cello chords- 'Trampolin' is by far the most uplifting moment on La Lechuza and it lost none of its power in the live setting. Elsewhere, harpist Sarah Page gave an excellent sung performance on the Lhasa De Sela cover 'Fish On Land'.

Throughout the concert, Esmerine seemed perfectly enthused to be here touring, and delighted with the warm responses their performances would elicit from the crowd. Smiles abounded, and although the stage was small and the band hustled in between each other- there remained a closeness between the musicians that was evident in the reflected expressions between them onstage. For such meditative music, Esmerine made for a charming spectacle as a band. This visual impact was accentuated by the work of visual artist Clea Minaker, who resided side stage broadcasting live graphics and images on the rear stage canopy. These deserve a special mention, as they were performed live and with good grace. An overhead projector made for a canvas as Minaker blew leaves and feathers across the light, or patchwork translucents- all making for a beautiful real-time animation that would adorn the music. A live reaction to it, then- painted in colour and mood, occasionally awkward but endearing throughout and a lovely element to accompany the band on tour.

Esmerine left once, but quickly returned- an unending torrent of applause humbling the band into performing two encore pieces. A sense of humour and eccentricity pervaded their stories throughout, Sarah and Beckie frequently introducing the lengthy chamber pieces as 'pop songs'- but it was the concert closer that perhaps played the biggest double-bluff of the night. Entitled 'Glock Rock', it was perhaps exactly that- an otherwise out-of-character foray into high-tempo glockenspiel action, ramped to eleven and accompanied by some frenetic drumming. If you've never heard glockenspiels used as rock instruments before then you're missing out. This was Esmerine's first UK tour, and for many in the crowd it marked an opportunity to see a beloved band- this much was clear from the response and by the number of people who hung around afterward to converse with the group, who were clearly taken aback by the warmth in the crowd.

First published in the405

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