In some ways, the Unitarian Church is the real star of tonight’s show, with both opening act and main attraction seem slightly in awe of their surroundings. It’s understandable, since how often does any musician get to perform on an altar with white marbled scrolls of the beatitudes for a backdrop, a marbled pulpit in the wings, and an audience sat on wooden pews? This greater intimacy makes it exceed even St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny as a sonic show setting virtually guaranteed to inspire wonderment, in both performers and, er, ‘congregation’. It certainly generates its own novelty value.
Fortunately, we are spared any sermons, and neither act is overpowered or overpowering. Support is provided by Tony Wright, late of …And So I Watch You From Afar, now trading as VerseChorusVerse, and making his official solo live debut since leaving the band here. It’s a solid, acoustic set, full of harmonica-heavy Bob Dylan and Neil Young influenced ballads (not that everyone who blows a harp automatically has to be influenced by either of those gentlemen).
John Vanderslice alternates between acoustic and electric guitars and an array of effects pedals, accompanied by a live drummer who also manages to finger a moog keyboard at the same time. It’s baroque chamber pop, the voice putting you in mind of Sufjan Stevens’ clear elocution, although Vanderslice’s brisk yet imaginative arrangements are nowhere near as cluttered as those of the Illinoise-maker’s. Material is drawn eclectically from most of his albums, although inevitably weighted more towards recent releases such as Emerald City, Romanian Names and White Wilderness. Oedipal rarity ‘I’ll Never Live Up To You’ gets an airing, and the duo concludes the evening by doing a couple of songs off-mic in the aisle, the singing accompanied only by guitar and floor tom. It’s a pity the audience (who were extraordinarily attentive throughout) was no multitude, numbering no more than 50 souls, although that probably only added to the unique atmospherics, and promoted the glow of exclusivity among those present born of feeling that each was one of the chosen few witnesses to a special event.