Louisiana, Bristol | 8 May 2012
As Geordie indie popsters Shields leave the stage having played out a charming warm-up set filled with melodies that fellow north-east natives Field Music would be proud of, whispers begin to circulate that tonight’s main draw only formed last year, and that this marks merely their second headline slot outside the capital.
It would appear the stakes are high; yet as Zulu Winter begin to play out tracks from their forthcoming debut LP Language, the clamour among those assembled gradually melts and we are absorbed into a vortex of ethereal musical landscapes. Slow-burning opener ‘Key to my heart’ dispels any suggestion that the performance might in any way seem embryonic – its moderate tempo and luscious refrain lulls us in and gently pulls us towards the aptly immersive ‘We Should Be Swimming’. It’s a highly assured performance epitomised by frontman Will Daunt, whose piercing looks, obligatory hair-tousling and fey movements make for a captivating spectacle that is matched only by his voice, which is perhaps the true highlight of the show.
While the opening bars of current single ‘Silver Tongue’ are met with healthy cheers from the crowd, the much-repeated line of ‘You are silver tongued’ gives the impression that the band has simply caught wind of an idiom and written a song around it. Yet the vocal delivery is such that this lyrical sluggishness is instantly forgivable – Daunt’s voice shimmering and gliding effortlessly through elegant falsetto phrases. At points, the vocal dexterity is akin to that of Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe; at others, it’s without comparison.
For the most part, the set is draped in a certain airiness: the stand-out ‘Let’s move back to front’ combining cowbell-infused tribal pop rhythms, befitting of the band’s name, with languorous, clean, reverb-rich guitar strokes and warm synths. The cumulative effect is that of a soothing balm: something that is to be enjoyed immensely but which doesn’t leave you ravenous. Notably, there’s no hint of an encore and no requests from the crowd. As the spaciousness of Zulu Winter’s sound best exemplifies – sometimes less is indeed more.
Pointing at buildings and comparing them to others, we smoked cheap cigarettes and looked out over the city’s lock. It had rained almost inconsolably en route, but now, somewhat inevitably, it had tempered. It was mild: a soothing lilac glow cast a tint over the cobbles, lampposts, treetops and roofs. Town was quiet but the day hadn’t receded quite yet.
A Canadian goose flapped a clumsy flap, bracing itself mid-flight for its meeting with the choppy water. A skid ensued and a faint swash of sound dissipated almost immediately. The ripples moved gracefully, spreading and blurring, leaving a channel of calm where the bird’s feet had skimmed the surface. Inhaling my last I disgarded my cigarette and surveyed the floor for the remnants of yours.
I’d been here before and it didn’t feel new. The stairs weren’t even but I tried not to let my brain linger on what had been. Chiming metallic instruments tingled like tabasco on the tongue. I’d felt that too.
The floor hummed and induced a fuzz about our feet and people began to dance, shoulders dipping, heads locked stage-ward. An infectious perfection, hard to pin down – aren’t all the best things? A smattering of oriental charm, captured in four or so notes, a sluggish groove, gold sequins, a mix of sexes and ages and dress codes, waistlines and piercings, dental records and cousins, insteps and birthmarks and likenesses, sarcasm and metabolisms. Friends, foes, the stoic, the bereaved. The ugly and the optimist, the naive and the cliché and the dreamer – tonight we dared not. Friends were all. And so to the clock, the stairs and Tuesday we turned, with cotton that might never fit, but that’s another tale.
It’s been four years since Brighton duo Blood Red Shoes emerged from a pool of samey, angular guitar bands and grabbed the attention of the music press with their Pixies-come-Kills-inspired indie rock debut Box of Secrets. Since then, plenty of their contemporaries have come and gone, and although being around for four years is no great achievement in itself, it nevertheless suggests that the two piece are still producing stuff that’s either worth hearing or, at the very least, remains marketable.
Within minutes of taking to the stage, it’s clear that the former applies; opener It’s Getting Boring By The Sea retains all its poppy charm and freshness, the lovely Laura-Mary Carter’s swooping vocal leaving sections of the crowd swooning as her dulcet East Sussex inflections drop from scudding guitar lines like blood from a sword. From there the night takes a steadily upward trajectory with a set list that finds a successful balance between the old and new: the instantly memorable guitar notes of Light It Up build triumphantly to its bilious, shout-along chorus, while latest single Cold brings a grander, more stately aura to the night, with Carter’s seductive vocal rising and falling amidst crunchy though spacious interplay between guitar and drum.
Yet the performance is as impressive visually as it is sonically – stark strobe lighting shifts with every beat, throwing brilliant focus to the chiselled cheekbones of the nautically-clad songstress, whose red nail-varnished fingers two-step their way up and down the fretboard with graceful ease. It’s moments like this that bring a sense of awe to this ecclesiastical venue.
What is perhaps most endearing about the boy-girl twosome, however, is the way they’ve remained true to their aesthetic and stuck to what they’re good at. There are no affectations or unnecessary accoutrements, no fawning over elaborate pedal combinations or sample tracks to pad out the sound. Instead, just refreshing hooks that ring out over a well-woven fabric of teasing distortion and infectious rhythms. Four years on and three albums in, the sanguine duo still have their fans cheering, heads rolling and feet scuffling. Long may it last.
As published in Crack magazine: http://crackmagazine.net//article/683/blood-red-shoes/
after Eric Ravilious
The weight of the decade looms
In the maudlin texture of the sky.
Grey and khaki-colour fields
Slope into valleys.
A kind of impasse,
A depiction of England.
Belying the strokes of watercolour
Pencil marks remain.
The language of practice
Crystallised beyond glass.
All around, views from South Downs
Permeate. The mists linger
In the stillness of the scene,
With the music of his name
Sapid like an adjective.