Y Niwl/Cate Le Bon - Central Station, Wrexham - Wednesday 3rd March
By the time they arrive in Wrexham on a frozen Wednesday night, awed whispers have spread around the internet about how excellent this line up had been in Cardiff, Aberystwyth and Bangor on preceding nights. Expectations are high amongst a slightly disappointing crowd.
Y Niwl play guitar instrumentals that are an extension- rather than a pastiche - of the legacies of Dick Dale, Link Wray and The Ventures. Self-limiting your tonal palette to two guitars, bass, drums and the occasional stab of garage organ (and not a single microphone through which to address the crowd), at a time when most home computers can carry round cornucopias of orchestral possibility, is a modernistic philosophy of sound. The timbre has always been important, but it's never been as important as the choice of note, in this context, anyway.
And Y Niwl know their notes.
It's a set like a meteor thundering down to earth. Initially rather beautiful and worthy of a pointed finger and a hushed "aaaah!" - soon accelerating into a cataclysmic end of all things, a fury of flashing sounds. Amazing, in other words. Truly the best-constructed set I have witnessed in a long time.
The lack of fuss or drama on stage; the low-key, modest blokes-just-playing-music aspect of it, focuses the mind on the music. We don't always need charisma writ large or faux attitude. When Alun's knees buckle because of the sheer sonic momentum surging out of him, it's truly affecting.
Un and Tri better their EP equivalents. Wyth, when that sees the light of day on their imminent debut album, will blow minds with its aceness.
My most listened to albums of the last 12 months are Cate Le Bon's debut Me Oh My and Future Of The Left's Travels With Myself And Another. One lends itself more obviously to a live environment than the other. Cate's album revolves in an off kilter way around a 4am, woozily hallucinogenic ambience. It's about the intimacy of her beguiling and unique voice visiting in a half-remembered dream. Quite how the subtlety-smashing hammer and anvil of a PA system would convey such a mood I wasn't sure.
Cate's band (Sion Glyn, Steve 'Sweet Baboo' Black, Andy Fung and, occasionally, Huw Evans) are some of the finest musical hands-for-hire Wales has to offer, and each of them has been involved in bands (Topper, Sweet Baboo and Derrero) that brought a light, melodic touch to lysergic mysteries. Cate's songs couldn't have a better band behind them.
But the focus is very much on Cate and her topsy turvy, Through The Looking Glass imagination. She takes to the stage like some Burton-esque Gretel who survived into womanhood but got scarred by her experiences in those scary, nightmare-filled woods.
That's an impression perhaps coloured by living in such close proximity to the album. The single red light shining up into her face from below, throwing her features into macabre Hammer House-relief, rather emphasises such preconceptions of strangeness.
But Cate rather shatters those impressions very quickly. She's far more playful and laidback than the gloaming claustrophobia of the album would suggest. It's a little disconcerting, at first, when she smiles, but it's a welcome surprise.
Similarly, the songs have more light in them in this setting. We're treated to exemplary versions of Me Oh My, Shoeing The Bones and Sad Sad Feet. Hollow Trees House Hounds was the only slight disappointment. That felt a touch heavy-handed, but - you know - it's one of my favourite recordings of recent years and I'm loyally dogmatic in my opinions.
Cate sings beautifully. The audience are entranced, you can see it in their faces... transported far away from these rather perfunctory surroundings.
At the audience's bequest - and Cate's, too - they do an excellent skitter through Burn Until The End as an encore. There are smiles on stage and in the audience. A night of many great surprises. Enchanting.