Playing two nights at The Met on their current tour goes to show that it's not just The Stone Roses can play multiples dates in the North West. Granted, Lau don't deliver regurgitated stadium indie rock to the masses built on a couple of albums they did almost twenty years ago. They are much contemporary more cutting edge - not a phrase you'd often associate with folk music.
Described in their website bio as "free thinking visionaries" (as well as all round good chaps), even the local press, finally seeing it fit to give some coverage to the ongoing terrific bill at The Met, which had Kris Drever referring to The Met as "the place to be in the North West). He should know having played often enough. Their new album, 'The Bell That Never Rang' saw them working with Joan Wasser (Joan As Police Woman) and the Elysian Quartet, a fine collection of songs plus the expansive title track, one which seems to have divided opinion between those who feel it is the mutt's nuts and those who feel it's far too wandering and perhaps too clever for their own good. However, the rest of the album, much of which makes up the set harks back to something more simple and all the better for it.
Set amidst a low lit stage which all adds to the Lau live atmosphere, 'The Death Of The Dining Car' - maybe just an excuse to sell their own branded hot sauce in one of the best stocked merch stands in folk - and in particular, 'Ghosts' probably rank amongst the best things they've done. Certainly the latter which in its relative musical simplicity and emotive melody and subject matter ("we came seeking protection…away from the strife, away from the struggles and hardships of life" - just one gorgeous lyric from the whole song which is wonderfully poignant and evocative) may even be THE best thing they've done. If anyone wanted to know what Lau were like, then this one would be the hook.
The shock of the evening might not be in the range of their music - that comes as part and parcel of the Lau live experience - but more from actually seeing Kris Drever and Aidan O'Rourke taking the opportunity to abandon their usual chairs and standing up - throwing caution to the wind the usual three piece seated arrangement was cast aside, not before time as the number of times Aidan O'Rourke risks a health and safety assessment the way he swings around on his seat, he really needs to stand albeit to control a pedal board which wouldn't be out of place in a rock rig and which would have the gear geeks wetting their pants. Similarly, Martin Green's working space saw his tilted keyboard gear, emblazoned with a 'I love the NHS' message made from sticky tape, and the contents of his cutlery drawer adding to his sound options as well as his more traditional accordion which proves useful for percussive thuds as well as the more usual sounds.
Along with Luke Daniels, the combination justified the two night stand with Luke's support on both gigs a coup giving this a real double bill effect. Usually associated with being a part of Cara Dillon's band, his solo outings have possibly been somewhat overlooked. Also more recognised as a melodeon player, it was interesting to see him in singer songwriting mode and more than adept on finger picking guitar as well as piano and all on the back of 2014's surprisingly pleasant 'What's Here What's Gone'.
However, that was just the meat of the set as it was the ideal opportunity to use the two Met gigs to essentially try out a different dressing by showcasing his work with the polyphon - an piece of Victorian technology in the form of an ingenious clockwork contraption resembling an upright record player, although that might be doing it a slight injustice, restored and modernised to provide something quite unique in terms of the impact in a live setting. Giving it a wind up and then tapping away at a laptop ("I think it's beginning to get a wee bit slicker") it was a bizarre coming together of the old and the new and fascinating to watch a work in progress and provide an interesting variation on Lau's electronics and loops.
In fact it's probably fair to conclude that although both acts are actively seeking to broaden their sonic palette beyond the existing and the expected, they do provide more colour than most with the way they deepen the tone and texture of their music and the way in which they apply an almost avant garde approach to folk.
Word & Pictures Mike Ainscoe
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