Monday, December 01, 2008

Jolie Holland

St. James Church, Picadilly, Friday 28th November.

Arriving late, I ended up in a pew fairly far back, craning my neck to see. Caught most of the set from Sam Amidon - mostly American folk songs. It was a bit-precious sounding in a Windham Hill-kind-of-way to begin with, but he eventually got JH out to play some appropriately scratchy fiddle while he played banjo and 'hollered' (I think that's what you'd call it), taking things in a more 'weird Americana' direction. Someone (who turned out to be JH's guitarist) joined them on drums, playing (intentionally) arhythmically to add to the weirdness factor. Nice try, but I'm afraid that didn't work - just sounded like a rock band practicing in the room next door.

Jolie Holland at the Roundhouse, 2006
Jolie at London's Roundhouse (2006) - same guitar

I'm not too convinced by what I've heard of her new album The Living and the Dead (almost mainstream country-rock-sounding in places, although the writing's as fab as ever), and this was compounded by the mild disappointment at finding that she'd brought a band with her. Strangely, I was reading a Juana Molina live review in The Wire recently, and a lot of it applied really quite directly - it was in a church, creating an inappropriately hushed and reverent atmosphere; the reviewer was disappointed to see a drumkit and bass on stage during support slot (the anomaly that is Max Tundra); Juana risks losing what makes her special by adding to it in this way, i.e. the band take away more than they add. In JH's case, the presence of a rhythm section sort of locks her down to a temporal grid, removing that dreamy 'meandering' quality that makes her stuff so extraordinary.

Jolie's drummer was great, and the guitarist, clearly influenced by Marc Ribot, was mostly OK, tho' I think he may have been having an off night. He played some almost Zimbabwean-style guitar lines during "The Littlest Birds", which could have worked well, but he didn't quite pull it off. Similarly, when he stepped on the overdrive pedal and attempted to 'shred' during "Old Fashioned Morphine" (the one everyone wanted to hear, it seemed), it could have worked, but it didn't.

They started off with three or four new ones, eventually playing most of the new album. Perhaps I need to get to know the songs a bit better, but it did rather make me wish I'd caught her on 2006's tour when she played (solo) The Roundhouse.

We got "Alley Flowers" and "Littlest Birds" from Catalpa, "Mad Tom of Bedlam" (brilliantly played on that 'Bo Diddley' rectilinear fiddle of hers!) and "Old Fashioned Morphine" from Escondido, nothing at all from Springtime Can Kill You (bored of those songs from last tour?). Interesting extras included a wild fiddle tune composed by a Native American (she didn't say who), a gorgeous reading of "Buckskin Stallion" by Townes van Zandt and a song at the piano composed by an eccentric friend of hers (banjo player, didn't catch the name - has composed a song cycle based around his own life and Dante's inferno).

They were just getting into the swing of it, when the 10pm church curfew kicked in - so no encore (Why didn't she give Sam a shorter set and start earlier? Oh well...)

Here are some clips from that Roundhouse gig:


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