The Low Anthem, Robyn G Shiels
Belfast has become a great city for music festivals in the last few years with a plethora of events to suit every taste, and January sees the Out to Lunch Festival, now in its fifth year of bringing matinee and evening music, comedy and drama with a side of grub.
This year's line-up saw The Low Anthem pay their first visit to the city. The recently expanded Rhode Island quartet have been gaining a lot of attention and acclaim after the re-release of third album Oh My God Charlie Darwin on the Nonesuch label. Their brand of multi-instrument folk rock obviously attracts a wide variety of followers with young bearded men standing shoulder to shoulder with The Band and Neil Young fans from the first time around.
Support on the night comes from Robyn G Shiels and Band but his poetic lyrics and country harmonies on songs like When We Were Brothers and An Offering as Such don't hold the crowd's attention for long, with large sections of the audience choosing instead to have a chat or go to the bar, which Mr Shiels made reference to several times. Perhaps a smaller venue and audience would have helped rather than being squeezed between the vast array of instruments placed around the stage for the headline act.
And so to the main event. The Low Anthem were given a rapturous welcome from the outset, opening the set with The Ghosts who Write History Books. Their music has the similar sombre tone of the support act, but this was compensated for by the enthusiasm and passion they have for their craft with the smile rarely leaving Jeff Prystowsky's face for the entire show.
The songs can seem a bit samey at times but the group move seamlessly between faster rockier numbers like Home I Never Will Be and Turn You Around to the slow haunting tones of Ghost Woman Blues and transfix the audience in the process. They also maintain a good mix of traditional songs like Sally Where' You Get Your Liquor From to self-penned classics like Ticket Taker and their breakthrough hit Charlie Darwin, with one audience member exclaiming "How can someone so young sound so old?."
The effortless way they move around the stage lifting the slew of instruments is astonishing; trumpets, double bass, clarinet duets, organ, guitar, bass and drums with plenty more thrown in.
It was also intriguing to see Jocie Adams play a strange looking row of cymbals with a bow, which I later discovered are crotales and usually played with a mallet. This summed up the night for me with a relatively young band taking traditional methods and influences from older alt-country groups and very much putting their own take on them.