Espers / Josephine Foster / Mi & Lau

  • London
  • United Kingdom
  • Tonic
  • 2005-08-10

Mi and Lau are Mira, from Finland, and Laurent, from France. They have been living in a shack in the middle of the woods in Finland for the last three years, with pretty much only each other and their guitars for company. The impression of two lovers alone in a landscape of snow and ice came through in their songs, which had a haunting bareness about them, but which was softened by the warmth that they played them with. Laurent’s skilled guitar picking and earthy voice perfectly complemented the sparse, stripped down notes of Mira’s guitar and her ethereal, brittle vocal melodies.

Unfortunately, a last minute venue change meant that the sound wasn’t properly sorted out at the beginning. This meant that near the back it was almost impossible to hear Mi and Lau, despite a crowd that was absolutely silent; seemingly afraid that any sudden movement would break the band’s spell.

…and then in the same breath rise to grand high notes

Josephine Foster describes herself as an ‘opera school dropout’, and sings folk songs in a similar vein to Shirley Collins. Her voice could be in one moment sweet and lilting, and then in the same breath rise to grand high notes; singing with a startling purity normally only heard from theremins, but without sounding forced or out of place. The sound in the venue had been sorted out by this point, so it was possible to hear her even standing at the back; but the 150 strong crowd still didn’t take this as a cue to start making any noise, and maintained the silent reverence that they’d shown to Mi and Lau.

Espers are a six piece folk from Philadelphia. Quirky chord changes are offset by sumptuous harmonies, and by the softly soaring female lead vocalist. What sets Espers apart from most other ‘new’ folk bands is the depth of their instrumentation. The cello and guitars give their songs a grounding that enables other members of the band to go off on winding, improvised tangents. They took full advantage of this live, creating build ups that were densely layered, but still very light because of the fluffy acoustic janglings that comprised the layers. Flutes, synthesisers and voices floating over the top of the earthy rhythm section gave the whole set a psychedelic, otherworldliness. Their sound also came across much stronger than Josephine’s, mainly because there were six times as many of them. It all made for a performance that, despite its quiet demeanor, was still very powerful.

…this could lead to a decimation of the number and variety of places it will be possible to see smaller bands

As a sidenote, this was because Barden’s Boudoir, the original venue, was raided by police during a show on Saturday, under the new music license regulations. Apparently loads of pubs (especially in Camden) were also shut down in raids on the same night, with apparently 20% of venues having not updated their licenses. This was largely due to poor distribution of information about the changes, and the complicated series of forms required. The changes make life easier and cheaper for larger venues with existing entertainment licenses. However, very small venues who would now need to apply and pay for a license specially, even for only solo and double acts, may just not apply. This could lead to a decimation of the number and variety of places it will be possible to see smaller bands, and a shortage of places for less well known bands to play and be heard. The effect will be less live music, and a greater homogenisation of new music in general.

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