At The Sun and the Moon's concert last year, free copies of Black Swan Lane's A Long Way From Home album were given out. The drummer in The Sun and the Moon is also the main songwriter in Black Swan Lane, and the various members of The Sun and the Moon collaborate with him on this project.
Now, the CD was free, so i had no real expectations going in to it. However, that is a solid album of mellow pop, with lots of interesting vocal melodies and light guitarwork. It's a really pretty record, and in the month or so that i knew Black Swan Lane was opening for Ian McNabb, i had steadily grown to anticipate this show.
The question was, would Black Swan Lane be able to pull it off? I was very curious to see how this stuff translated to the stage.
We arrived at the venue at about 7:45. Cliff, who used to run the excellent store Eat More Records (RIP) teased us that we were "late" as doors had been opened a half hour at that point. Ha ha.
The Red Light Café is an interesting place. It is a huge space, or at least it appears to be so. I would guess that it has as much floor space as The EARL. But it has massive cavernous ceilings, which make the room seem very large. The big open space is also really great for sound, and indeed the sound was excellent in the venue all evening.
Now, the venue is also a working café. They have coffee, and snacks. Several times we saw employees wandering through with a plate of nachos to deliver to some table or other. And yes, the entire space is filled with tables. So we were able to sit, like civilized people, and enjoy this mellow performance. I think that if i had been forced to stand through it, i might have been more bored…
Anyway, just after 8, a guy came on stage and picked up an acoustic guitar. He introduced himself as "Jimmy" and then proceeded to play two singer-songwriter types of songs. He had a vaguely smoky voice, and his guitarwork was good for what he was doing. I don't think i could have put up with an hour-ling performance, but he was pleasant enough i guess.
The eponymous "Jimmy".
After two songs, the rest of Black Swan Lane joined him on the stage. Apparently Jimmy is part of their live crew. The band tonight also featured Jack Sobel, drummer in The Sun and the Moon, and the taller of the two Andys from that same band. There was also a percussionist, and an electric guitarist (Jack, Andy, and Jimmy all on acoustic), making the entire band a five-piece tonight. Mr. Sobel noted that Mark Burgess was unable to make the flight this time, but they would try to sing his parts as best they could… I bet they would have sounded even better with Burgess on bass and voice!
Jimmy, Jack, and Tall Andy in color ...
... and in the natural red light of the venue.
But really, i have no complaints. Black Swan Lane played excellently tonight. Andy, Jimmy, and Jack all sang. They switched instruments a few times, but in general the lineup was three acoustics, one electric guitar, and some percussion with occasional keyboards. What kept it all interesting was that all the musicians really knew what they were doing, and all of them would be doing something completely different. You could focus on what one person was playing, really zeroing in on them, and everything else was a complimentarily noise in the background. Then someone else would do something interesting, and suddenly your focus would shift, and that instrument was now in front, and everything else was a complementary melody.
The eletric guitarist, who does not sing.
It was truly a magnificent performance. They played for an hour, and included their "hit" Dead which i had seen Mark Burgess sing in the encore at The Sun and the Moon. Sobel, with his husky voice that reminds me slightly of Matt Berninger from The National, did fine on this song. He also did So Tired, another song that Burgess sang on the album.
Jack Sobel, the man behind Black Swan Lane.
(That is no ghost in the background, merely the
percussionist/keyboardist, who was stuck in the unlit corner.)
I have to say that i was really impressed. Several of the songs were introduced as "new", and the word is that Black Swan Lane did some recording the week before The Sun and the Moon show, so hopefully we will see a new record from them this year. And i really hope that they play out again….
So after an hour's performance, i was perfectly happy. If the show had ended there, i would have been fine. But we still had an act to go, Ian McNabb.
Ian McNabb, if you don’t remember, was the lead singer of The Icicle Works. They had that hit Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream) back in 1984. In the US, they were a one-hit wonder of the New Wave era, but they released many records, and had a string of hits in the UK. I actually own three different records by them, and each one is rather good. The band had more depth than they were given credit for, and since i enjoy everything i have heard by them, i was kind of curious to see what Mr. McNabb would do as a solo artist.
Ian Mcnabb in a rock-star leather jacket.
Well, the first thing you need to know is that he has fans. Diehard fans. There were people there who knew every word he sang. At one point he asked for requests and one girl yelled out for Let The Young Girl Do What She Wants To. He stopped and said, "No one has ever requested that one before. And it was a hit." Which prompted someone else in the crowd to yell out, "Number 21". But McNabb corrected him, "No, it only reached 38." You know you are at a geeky show when a musician is debating chart placement with his fans!
In general he was rather personable. He joked with the crowd, playing some songs straightforward and sometimes encouraging the crowd to sing along. They never sang loud enough for his taste… He would also shift from one of his songs into some other song that had a similar chord structure. For example, his song Little Girl Lost has the same structure as Lay Lady Lay, and he played the two as sort of a medley. "Most songwriting is theft," McNabb noted.
Ian McNabb wandered through the crowd playing Stairway to Heaven.
Yes he did! I am not making that up...
Another great quote that i liked, wrote down, and most repeat for you hear. After a while (including a terribly long and boring rendition of Stairway to Heaven where some random guy in the crowd sort of shouted the words while McNabb tried to play Jimmy Page…), he started a song, then stopped and turned his head to the crowd. "This one is sort of autobiographical." He strums a few chords and stops. "It goes on a bit, but is still shorter than the book."
He kept playing, and playing. After about an hour and a half, we had reached the part of the show where he had figured out who the really diehard fans were, and he was playing to them. He was taking requests, and even remarked that he could play all night if they let him.
Ian McNabb enjoys his fans.
Well, i had seen enough. McNabb is an interesting and personable performer. The only thing he perhaps needs is an editor.
Overall this was a pleasant night. I think that if McNabb had stopped playing after 45 minutes or so i would have thought his set brilliant. As it kept going and going, i got more and more annoyed, decreasing my final verdict of the night.
I bet those die hard fans loved it! The EvilSponge minions were the first people to leave the show…