Tom Reed 02/11/2010
This was my first visit to the old Sanctuary venue since HMV bought it out and rebranded it as the Institute, and they appear to have done their best to spruce things up a bit. Trouble is, the downstairs room for tonight's gig has had two bars added almost right in front of the stage, meaning the place is so cramped trying to get from one side of the venue to the other led to unintentionally violating the people you moved past. Also, there are TV screens above the stage with the venue name on them - WHY?!? We're already in their venue, must they continue their ceaseless advertising?
Opening band Foxes! were given a good reception from the crowd, who were taken in by the numerous interesting tangents laid through their songs. Their set was packed with energetic, upbeat tunes shot through with sweet boy/girl harmony and shards of electronics. Their closing song in particular was a multi-part epic which verged on prog - but about as far away from the awful prog your old man listens to.
They also deserve special mention for crowbarring the line “my dog got anal cancer” into a bright, joyful pop song.
Stornoway are clearly a band on the cusp of something big - despite technical problems causing them to be late on stage, the crowd seem entirely unfussed at having to wait. Every track from their debut record “Beachcomber's Windowsill” is met with cheers and big singalongs, and the crowd seem universally delighted to see their heroes.
The band's violinist kicks off proceedings with a dramatic looped introduction, and the rest of the band hit the stage to a huge reception. Aswell as their violinist, the live band includes a trumpet player and all six thump away at various percussion instruments, and all their tunes are driven along by their energetic, inventive rhythm section. They aren't helped by a stodgy sound mix, but these elements add decoration to what are fairly workmanlike songs.
The band also show some eccentric touches - throwing a load of spoons on the floor, sawing a block of wood for no apparent audible reason and even switching on a TV during a song. That said, frontman Brian Briggs brings the crowd to a rapt silence during the solo “November Song” with a strong vocal over delicate acoustic guitar. They also show they are capable of noisy urgency with “On The Rocks”, easily the song of the night, building from edgy, nervous guitar to a thrillingly powerful climax.
It seems that now is the time to catch them on their current tour - its unlikely that you'll get to see them in venues this sort of size again.
Pictures by Mark Salmon!