Here Comes the Landed Gentry, Robyn G Shiels, Skip Moses
As the festive season rapidly draws upon us, the good folks at Radar give us a hearty dose of rootsy Americana to ward off those Christmas blues. Skip Moses is the alter-ego of Belfast noiseniks Lafaro, jettisoning the punishing rock pile-driver in favour of lap-steel and banjo. And given the immense talents of all involved, should we be at all surprised that it's a 100% successful change of character? There's always been something of a redneck storyteller lurking within Johnny Black, and Skip Moses gives him ample opportunity to kick back and holler about fast cars and whiskey sodden nights. Tongues appear to be in cheeks, but the whole thing is carried off with a deft touch, leaving no doubt that this is a lot of fun, but a long way from being a parody.
Whilst Skip Moses compel us to do a jig and swing each other around, Robyn G Shiels and band are the flipside of the coin, bringing a touch of darkness to the proceedings. As a songwriter, Shiels is without parallel, and with a full band line-up to marshal the tension and fury lying within the dark heart of the songs, there is no stopping him. Even amid the chatter and noise of the Speakeasy, the songs of Robyn G Shiels are masterpieces of emotional devastation. Between songs, Shiels can be jovial or sarcastic as the mood takes him, but the second the music starts people pay attention, and the world seems to stop turning. In this band's hands, songs such as 'Tender is the Night' and 'When Love it Starts Leavin' explode into life, gaining a ferociousness only hinted at in their recorded versions. With an album in the can, and an acoustic EP hopefully ready for release, 2010 could see Robyn G Shiels ascend to the top of the pile, where he rightly belongs.
For any band, it would be daunting to follow this. When Robyn G Shiels and band leave the stage, it almost feels like a smoking crater. However, Here Comes the Landed Gentry are not known for being demure, and one by one they filter onto the stage, employing a subtle theatricality, layering voice upon voice. However it is this same artifice that lets them down, being strangely inappropriate after what has gone before. Skip Moses may not be "authentic", but they have an affinity and lack of pretention that will allow them to get away with murder. Robyn G Shiels is undoubtedly the "real deal". In complete contrast, Here Comes the Landed Gentry shroud everything in costumes and masks, providing constant a constant reminder that they are actors playing a part.
On any other night, they'd have gotten away with it. They're a good-time party band, full of foot-stampin' shout-a-long songs, but placed beside the bruised heart of Robyn G Shiels, they look like a bunch of entertainers with access to the dress-up box. By the end of their set, they've largely won back the crowd's attention, delivering a rousing acapella rendition of 'Leadbelly', but the damage has been done.
A pyrrhic victory perhaps, but proof that when it comes to winning over peoples' hearts, sometimes you have to break them first.