Liverpool welcomed back familiar face Lucy Rose for her third date here in 12 months, accompanied by Mercury-nominated support in C Duncan, Getintothis’ David Hall was there to tell the tale.
His recent Mercury nomination apparently lost on the Liverpool public, C Duncan opened the show at the O2 Academy 2 playing to absolutely nobody, a baldy-looking couple of rows at the front and nothing more. But by the end of his set, he had grossed an impressive crowd, and deservedly so.
His sound is hard to categorize – and all the better for that – bedroom-ish, you might say, live instruments augmented with laptop-based beats. There was no acoustic guitar to be found in this singer-songwriter’s live mix, with twinkling keys and droning synths backed by clicking, drilling drum machines and strong, sprightly basslines. Mr Duncan himself came across as gracious and humble, thanking the crowd with visible sincerity after most tracks, but not short on confidence.
There is much to like and little to dislike about what he offers, both live and on record; his material was quiet – until he asked for his guitar to be turned up in the mix, it was almost imperceptible – but impeccably clean and full of character. There was no clashing elements battling each other to be heard and the three-piece band conjured some gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies, interweaving old world charm amidst synthesized choirs and crackling beats.
That’s what’s so pleasing about C Duncan, his hushed Sufjan-ish vocal brushing up against a lushly textured, neo-dream-folk backdrop composed of fluid shapes, ushering through a heightening or slackening of tone. Although there is an echoing, almost Fleet Foxes-esque aesthetic to C Duncan’s music, he was gloriously understated onstage in Liverpool.
An altogether different prospect followed from Flyte; a jangly, somewhat danceable, at times noisy alt-pop band. Whereas some of their contemporaries come across as angular, all of Flyte‘s edges are very much rounded off.
They introduced new material, showing a marked improvement over their older songs, which seemed a little pre-occupied with finding something for every instrument to do for every single second. It was only towards the final quarter of their set that the problem really presented itself, in the slowly-dawning realisation that they’re shifting towards playing blandly ‘big’ sounding material you could very much imagine The Script trotting out. Obviously fine if you’re into that sort of thing, but Faithless for example went full-on Bryan Adams, right off the map into power ballad territory.
We imagine the band are embracing that as an avenue for leaving venues the size of Academy 2 behind, particularly since frontman Will Taylor’s slightly grating cheeky-chappie stage persona was a far cry from the quiet modesty of C Duncan. It gave the impression that he thinks support slots in small venues is a bit infra-dig for his band. He glibly pointed out early on there was “a lot of feedback” in his microphone, to the near-audible noise of a sound tech not giving a fuck.
In fairness, the Academy crew were the bigger people in the event, and definitely tried to fix it. We waited for Lucy Rose to the disconcerting and incredibly loud soundtrack of System of a Down, until the playlist was pointedly updated and the more appropriate likes of Nick Drake poured from the PA. The band arrived onstage soon after, duelling drums and rumbling guitar opening Cover Up with a chiming, eastern-sounding melody line. It’s a satisfying and organic departure from Rose’s sparse, acoustic beginnings as an artist. Throughout her performance, she showed herself to be a nuanced and engaging songwriter who is in the process of flourishing with the release her second album Work It Out, which comprised the majority of her set.
Her newer material is a definite evolution, characterised by weird bass frequencies and interesting textural strokes. At times the guitar takes on a burbling rumble, as on the echoing, submerged quality it bestows upon Middle of the Bed’s intro. At others, Sheffield was daubed with flashes of stabbed chords and a stuttering rhythm section performance most suggestive of her close collaborators Bombay Bicycle Club. The arrangements comprised smart tempo and texture changes, all of which elevated even the more straightforward tracks like Till the End, and when Rose’s summery, melodious choruses hit their mark, even the most cynical struggled not to smile.
That’s not to say there weren’t moodier moments however, such as Nebraska, also from her latest album. It further showcased the richer textures Rose is reaching for, both in her increased use of piano and the Beth Gibbons-like quality to her cracked high notes. The chilly For You’s high fretted bass branches into skittering drums, and the washing guitar and synth of She’ll Move aren’t the most tempting of propositions on paper, but sounded gorgeously rich live.
Shelter also showcased a more ambient atmosphere at its outset, rattling beats recalling Thom Yorke’s more recent material before the band crowded around the drum-kit to orchestrate a soaring crescendo. Flyte returned to the stage – as they had promised earlier – to provide backing vocals for Like An Arrow’s chorus; it was a lovely moment, their warming harmonies layering beautifully on an already sumptuous set highlight. Speaking to her audience frequently – particularly when some left to catch a train at the not-unreasonably-late hour of 9.45pm – Rose chatted of her policy ensuring a short break between acts, and that she takes to the stage as early as possible. Far more confident onstage than her diminutive stature and soft speaking voice would suggest, Rose didn’t stride around owning the place, but kept the crowd quietly in the palm of her hand the whole time.
“Was that a dog-bark?” she asked the audience quizzically as somebody near the front provided just such a sound effect ahead of Bikes. “Oh, it’s an in-joke?” Rose just barely sighed, raising the hint of an eyebrow when a requested explanation isn’t forthcoming. She brought the crowd with her into a mass singalong and a predictable but still great communal reaction to Bikes’ chorus, “Listen up, listen here, everybody scream out loud”. The audience had previously encouraged each other to ‘Shhhh’ for a bare-bones rendition of Shiver, Rose staring implacably into the crowd or closing her eyes in an assured delivery.
As the show wrapped up, Rose echoed C Duncan’s earlier graciousness, thanking everyone from the audience to her backing band and her support acts. Commenting on how privileged she feels in making music as a job, her sincerity carried through an encore comprising a closed-eyes solo version of To The Bone and an upbeat Red Face to close. Considering she has only two albums’ worth of material to plunder, Rose played a lengthy set at 1 hour and 20 minutes, commenting that she plays “a lot of two-minute songs“. Each compact, idea-crammed composition burnt briefly but brightly and covered an impressive amount of stylistic ground.
Overall, the set enjoyed the necessary definition and dynamism to its louder, more multi-faceted moments without suffering for intimacy when stripped back to just Rose’s guitar and sweetly pure voice. Although she may have described My Life as an “anti-Saturday” song, the crowd departed into the chilly weekend night palpably invigorated by Lucy Rose.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Christopher Flack.