Shady Bard, Harper Simon

Keiran Goddard 23/10/2010


Shady Bard are preoccupied; Shady Bard are concerned about the state of the planet (not good/getting worse/most troubling…)


Some people (not Shady Bard, I would guess) think that the whole 'climate change' thing is a bit of a crock; profit-driven worry-mongering teetering like a shit stack on a couple of gilded matchsticks.


Others might suggest that we've got our terminology all a-muddled and whatnot- The Planet is fine, always has been, always will be; regenerative and beautiful, flicking anyone unduly boisterous and destructive into extinction when they become too bothersome.

Status update- Earth: dandy, Humanity: royally fucked.

Those people who fall into the second category are an odd proposition- they are often the worst sort of ignorant; locked into a petulant anti-logic that confuses opposition with affirmation- kinky in a way, but mostly just brain-rapingly stupid. We'll say no more about them.

For those not afflicted with geo-blindness, there is a problem of scale; how do you make sense of the consequential enormity of what we are facing? Government reports suggest that the only way to encourage people to make positive ecological change is to 'underplay' language and content. The wisdom in this is centred around the idea that if people knew quite how bad things were it would be debilitating and demotivating, fostering a 'what's the point?' attitude.

There is no such rhetorical slight of hand from Shady Bard; from the moment they step on stage we are in the land of the bold gesture and the chubby brushstroke. And herein lies the problem; the subject matter is complex, nuanced and challenging, fraught with liminal propositions and potential- the music is not. The lyrics are painful at times… and by 'times' I mean, roughly, linear time. We are told that there are 'wonderful' things in the sea, which is true enough, but also utterly vague and silly, especially when it is emoted in the style of a post-coital Chris Martin fronting an advert for Birdseye Fishfingers.

The music fares little better; all cliché and bombast, you can hear what they are aiming for, making it all the sadder when they fall short. The strings are syrupy and the brass is unimaginative. Five years or so ago, marrying these orchestral flourishes to a dreary piano dirge might have lifted it out of the doldrums. Tonight, in a musical landscape which almost demands every piss poor band (and Madonna) add brass strings and world music motifs to their songs, Shady Bard's dated piano ballads are cruelly recontextualised by their accompaniment- breathtakingly mundane.

Shady Bard mean well, that is clear, it seems that their hearts (and brains) are in the right place, but tonight they are hammy and blustery, a broken spirited old dame bellowing through a festive pantomime as if it were Hamlet. They lose the crowd quickly and irreparably and there is little going back; people are noticeably bored. The band don't lack ambition, just charisma, subtlety, innovation and self awareness. Perhaps they could take a lesson from the policy makers on this one; 'underplay' things a little- because as it stands Shady Bard are doing a stellar job of fostering that depressing 'what's the point?' feeling.