On Tuesday I went along to Shepherd’s Bush Empire with my friends Jon and Shane to see the Staves. It was my first non-festival concert since March 2020. And it was the Staves’ first tour promoting their new album Good Woman which came out in February this year, although they did do a very good livestream from the Lafayette, Kings Cross on the day of release.
It occurred to me as we watched the show, surrounded by mainly twenty and thirty- somethings, that I have been following the band for ten years now. I first came across them through a tweet by the veteran DJ and presenter “Whispering Bob” Harris, which linked to a video for one of the band’s early singles, Mexico. I liked it and checked out iTunes – remember that? – where I found a collection of beautiful, wistful folk-tinged songs, embellished by the loveliest harmonies you could hope to hear. Some of the lyrics were pretty dark, but it was music to soothe the soul. Their sound today is poppier, and rockier, with a discernable American influence, but their gift for melody, wrapped around with those amazing harmonies, remains.
I saw the band play twice in 2012, first at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, and then on the i-Arena stage at Latitude. That was my first Latitude, and the Staves were undoubtedly one of the highlights. I’ve seen them a few times over the years, with the show promoting their second album If I Was at Wilton’s Music Hall in east London in 2015 perhaps the best. After that I didn’t see them again until this year: first that livestream and then at Green Man festival in August. They were playing the main stage there in early evening. It was good, though the focus was, not surprisingly, on the more uptempo songs. And there were only two of the three sisters, Jessica and Camilla. Emily is taking some time out with her new baby. There was a full backing band too, a contrast with the early days when it was just the three of them and a drummer.
Whether the line up was the same for the show on Tuesday I don’t know, though I imagine it was. But inside a hall, with the lights and more time, the Staves were able to explore the full range of their songs. And they did so superbly. I loved every minute of it. It was one of those shows that you don’t want to end. They played with dynamism and subtlety, with some lovely touches of cornet embellishing some of the slower pieces. The set naturally centred on the new album, which was played almost in its entirety. The show began with a selection of the more upbeat numbers, culminating in a past favourite, Black and White, from the second album. That was greeted like an old friend by the crowd. We then went into a lovely, reflective passage, with Jessica on keys for part of it. It included two of my favourite songs from the new album, Nothing’s Gonna Happen and Waiting on me to Change. But we also had three more from the soul-soothing past: Make it Holy, Winter Trees and that first song of theirs I ever heard, Mexico.
I could have gone home happy at this point, but the set built from now to a rousing Satisfied and finally, a great version of Damn it All, with Jessica really rocking out on the second half. They were obviously coming back for an encore, with the crowd loving it, and not having played their new anthem, Good Woman. So yes, they came back and played Good Woman and then finished with a joyous rendition of an older anthem, Teeth White. An uplifting end to a heart-warming concert.
Looking back at my previous reviews of Staves concerts between 2012 and 2015, I usually ended with a comment about how they were going places, had a great future ahead of them and so on. They weren’t the only ones, in fairness. But I’m glad to say, that for the Staves at least, I got it right!