Last night my friend Jon and I went up to Koko in Camden to catch up with a couple of bands who were at End of the Road but we missed. Julia Jacklin, an Aussie singer whose sound could be described as Americana, and Whitney, who I had down as soulful indie until last night, when they felt like much more.
Unlike a lot of concerts, we made absolutely sure we got there for the support. In fact I was happy at the prospect of Julia being the highlight. She alone was worth the ticket.
I really like Koko as a venue. A nice size. Ornate balconies. And memories, memories… Once the Camden Palace, home of the New Romantics and then early hip hop. A haunt of mine in 83/4. Oh yes! White socks and grey loafers; stripey, baggy denim trousers…
Julia Jacklin and band were excellent. As is her debut album, “Don’t Let the Kids Win”. The set was a bit short, but she played a good mix of her upbeat numbers and the solo songs – just her and her electric guitar. I really like her sound. There’s a bit of Sharon Van Etten in there. Courtney Barnett, maybe, on the rockier ones, and a voice as beautiful as the likes of Emmylou Harris, Lindi Ortega and Daisy Vaughan. (The last two are personal benchmarks for beautiful voices, if you don’t know them). Expressive, but delicate too.
A great start to the evening, and I look forward to seeing her headline at the Scala in March next year.
And then Whitney. Wow, just wow! At End of the Road, I bought a two CD Rough Trade compilation of bands appearing at the festival. Whitney’s “No Woman” was the second track on the first CD. What a lovely song. Wistful, restrained and full of that beautiful sadness. Sung in falsetto by front man Julien Ehrlich. I bought the album, “Light Upon the Lake”, and liked it. That soulful indie, but with the falsetto reminding me of the Bee Gees, which distracted me a bit.
So last night I was ready for a quite enjoyable show. How wrong I was – it was awesome! So uplifting. Music, I quickly realised, which was rooted in the very best of Van Morrison – “Moondance”, “Tupelo Honey” sprang to mind. And even “Astral Weeks”, for the falsetto. Throw in a bit of “Nashville Skyline” Dylan, The Band, early Steely Dan and some sweet R&B and you might he getting towards the sound. In fact there was a cover of a song from “Nashville Skyline”: “Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You”. The band looked like university geeks and played like a dream. So tight, spare and uplifting.
And Julien – a real character. He sang that falsetto, he played the drums, wore his hood up all show, glugged from a bottle of red wine between songs – how did he keep time? – and celebrated his parents being there. He was talkative, unlike most singers these days, engaging and kind of intense. There was a lot going on inside his head, I thought.
And that joyous sound, the falsetto a truly soulful complement.
Koko was packed – mostly 20-somethings. A lot of people knew about Whitney, and Jon and I both asked ourselves how we didn’t hear of them until End of the Road.
And “No Woman”, well wow again. Three songs into the encore, the last song of the night. Introduced by Julien as a song about getting a girl and losing her immediately. With a wry laugh. And then a beautiful ballad turns into an anthem. The whole crowd singing – the verses as well as the chorus. I think Julien was pretty overwhelmed by the end of the song – the effects of the wine maybe, but also the reaction of the crowd. They are still a new band. How good it must feel.
And now I know how good they are live, I’ll be back again. At every opportunity. Whitney are a wonderful celebration of the soul, the spirit of music.
Hope they are at Latitude next year!