Wintersleep: The Academy 2, 10/5/09

The hairy thing on the left is Tim. He's lovely.

I finally get to say this: due to popular demand, I’m throwing together a review of Wintersleep’s gig. Wintersleep, if you didn’t know (and not many do, I realise) are that most common of beasts – a beardy indie-rock band. Luckily for all of us, they tend more towards the spacey atmospherics of My Morning Jacket or Band of Horses than the bland dreck of Snow Patrol or the like. Of course, me being entirely unfamiliar with them prior to the start of the gig, I had no idea what kind of music they played: all I knew was I didn’t have a ticket.

Yes, I had made my way to Jervis Street in the hopes of seeing a gig I hadn’t even considered buying a ticket for, despite the entry only costing a measly €13. I’m a student, I detest most indie bands, and I’m cheap: of course I wasn’t going to buy a ticket. Luckily, my companions and I managed to blag ourselves into doing an interview with the guitarist, the lovely and wonderful Tim D’eon; a radio interview, no less, for Galway station Flirt FM, so I’ll link to that as soon as possible. Serendipity being on my side, Tim was nice enough to put us on the guestlist. Thus: free gig! Hooray!

If the night in general made one thing clear, it’s that compatible lead singers are important. I started to realise this very fact about thirty seconds into the opening act’s set. Bi-Polar Empire (whose bassist was played by Napoleon Dynamite) were a decent enough group, with a not-unbearable collection of knockabout jangle-pop-rock to their name, and one damn fine proper-rock number. Nothing that would set the world alight, but nothing that would drive me to set the stage alight either. Unfortunately, Bi-Polar Empire have a lead singer afflicted with the kind of affected warble that, with prolonged exposure, would make even the most patient of listeners want to impale small birds on large sticks. No matter how good the backing might have been, there was no chance they could overcome the irritation provided by the voice out front. For shame.

Wintersleep, on the other hand, have what is probably the most nasal-voiced singer since Kermit the Frog sang It Ain’t Easy Being Green. But somehow, it doesn’t grate (much) – the big, dramatic, pulsing music behind the voice carries it, and makes it a vital part of the echoey, cavernous whole. Paul Murphy’s voice rose to fill the tiny Academy2 on rocking cuts like recent singles “Oblivion”, “Archaeologists” and huge singalong, “Weighty Ghost”, and John Samuel’s keyboards and enthusiastic backing vocals did their part to help. But Wintersleep’s greatest strength isn’t in their radio rock simplicity – it’s when they dig deeper.

Songs like “Insomnia” and “Miasmal Smoke and the Yellow Bellied Freaks”, already reverb-stricken and epic on record, became positively mountainous, lumbering beasts, propelled to their gigantic dimensions by the hard-hitting, aggressive drumming of Loel Campbell, and the band’s collective willingness to jam on a motif until it builds to a satisfying crescendo. It’s probably the My Morning Jacket fan in me coming into play, but when the focus on song merged into a focus on sound – just a natural, epic sound – their music really came alive. So while “Oblivion” and its ilk worked well at providing variety, I spent some time wishing they’d get back to letting their huge, wilderness jams run amok.

Particular highlights include Tim – playing keyboards on “Miasmal Smoke” – climbing atop his stool, and rocking back and forth as he hammered the keys, eventually collapsing, and never missing a note; or the opening strains of “Insomnia” – which Murphy played on a guitar with a broken E string. “I was gonna change guitars, but I don’t need that string for this song.” Or the collective cheer that went up from the crowd when Samuel had the new string all tuned up. It felt like the band’s fans were a community rather than a bunch of people who like the same band – and since this is Wintersleep’s second gig here this year, you’ve got to think they might have recognised a lot of faces.

This did lead to me feeling a little like an observer, an outsider looking in – as if my blagging my way in as a “journalist” meant that I was fated to experience the gig as a journalist rather than a fan, a documenter rather than a reveller. I didn’t sing along to a single song, I didn’t recognise the songs as they started. I didn’t know anyone’s name except Tim, and that was just because I’d talked to him half an hour earlier. I didn’t walk into the gig as a fan, and I didn’t watch them play as a fan.

But I’m writing about them as a fan. So they accomplished that much.

Also, since Tim told us that he doesn’t mind people file-sharing their music, since it gives them a wider audience, I give you this MP3: Insomnia.

Now go be a fan too.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: