People trickle through the door, shaking off the rain, as Charlie Straw starts his set. It takes me a few minutes to de-mist the glasses and take the scene in; standard, early evening Brude numbers milling around and what looks like a history student on stage with a guitar. As my ears dry out, I am aware that I’ve heard something like this before. Something soulful, delivered straight to which ever receptors in the brain recognise that slightly unpolished edge that comes across so well when it’s just one-man-and-his-guitar.
He is a pleasing blend of Damien Rice and Tracey Chapman – a good vocal range sees his pitch jump into the rafters and then slide back down into a warm tenor giving a good variation to the melodies which keeps things interesting where other singer-songwriter types can sometimes get a bit samey. This variety is added to when we are treated to the real gem of the set, a blues number slotted in half way through – this is where he shows what a good player he is and also where his proper vocal style fits in, there’s a real authentic, Mississippi feel to it. He has much more oomph in there, a grittiness that gets lost in the lighter songs, and this is really where he should focus. There is some percussive guitar exhibited as well, with the six-string being laid across his lap and much slapping and drumming ensuing. The set closes with a Black Keys cover, rounding off a solid set with a crowd pleaser.
By the time I go to the bar and back again, microphone stands have been wrapped in flowers and fairy lights. Apparently, The Coopers are going to live up to their reputation as a band of musicians from all over, drawn together in an almost gypsy fashion before producing their own specific brand of chirpy, hippy tunes. Lead singer Chelsea Carins strolls out; fairy light-adorned, flowery head band on and is instantly comfortable with the crowd, thanking them for coming. It only takes a couple of bars to realise that this is an experienced band. The music isn’t particularly edgy (in fact it’s very feel good), and for that reason it could be dismissed by a lot of the Brude regulars – if it encourages you to look up and enjoy instead of check out your own shoe laces it must be feared and shunned, etc, etc – but it is engaging and well executed stuff, whether you want to admit it or not.
It’s not the most original stuff but there is variation here, mid-sections breaking the songs down and a moment when the entire band gather around some children’s toy bells (salvaged from a school that some of the band worked at following its closure) to “ding” out the melody. The vocal harmonies the songs are built around ring out like a memory of a 1970’s road trip and there is a very big nod to all things “hippy” going on here. On more than one occasion I am reminded of MGMT. The middle of the set switches to a more minor key and there are some genuinely attention-grabbing moments – at one point, during one particularly heart-felt rendition, even the idle chatter that has been circulating around the bar is hushed and all eyes are on a band in full flow.
It isn’t long however, before the upbeat mood returns and the crowd are encouraged to fill the floor before joining in with a sing-a-long. The final song ends on a kazoo crescendo (if there is such a thing) and rapturous applause. It may not have been everyone’s first choice of acts to come and see but I doubt anyone in the room would have been disappointed.
The most notable thing about Milo Greene’s arrival on stage is that I don’t notice at which point they begin playing doubt that I could tell you if they had been playing for thirty seconds or thirty minutes. The sound is an ethereal blend of heavily reverbed noises from guitars, keys and vocals that seems to come from nowhere and instantly makes you aware (if you didn’t know already) that this band are from sunnier climbs, near the ocean where ideas have more to do with sunsets and seagulls than whether or not you’ll get that promotion. The music could be the backdrop to any idealistic surf documentary – it’s like the notes smell of salt and drift in on a breeze.
The sound is thick and layered with the vocals so meshed into it you’re not always sure if they are meant to be up front or somewhere in the back like they’re part of an instrumental. It’s an enchanting noise.
The intensity of it all ebbs and flows, with the harmonies rising and falling between gentler melodies and more full-on Arcade Fire “woahs” – sometimes leaning towards an almost tribal feel. It’s like they’re miming along to some hidden synthesiser that’s got a ‘Fleetwood Mac vs Fleet Foxes’ mode – I half expect them to declare that these are Ministry of Sound Chill Out session versions of a set of, usually, much more raucous and traditional indie hits. But no, this is what they have to offer and it is mesmerising and engaging and quite impressive in its descriptiveness. The amount of instrument swapping is notable too. It adds to the feeling that the songs have been grown organically as opposed to written in somebody’s basement.
However, they don’t have The Coopers knack of making the audience an integral part of the show – it’s not that kind of gig. It is much more of a thing to witness and take in, rather than a performance that kicks down the fourth wall. That said the crowd are obviously well into it. Each song is followed by enthusiastic applause and an eagerness for the next song to get going. The band are enjoying themselves too and, despite the sometimes intense air of the music, they are joking around on stage in a stereotypically relaxed, Californian fashion.
The music and the beer has the masses on good form and they cheer the encore with gusto. In return the band deliver a spirited, if not flawless, version of ‘1957’ to round things off.
It’s often the case, when there is such a degree of variation on a bill like this one that at least one of them just feels like a space-filler – so there’s some background noise happening to accompany the sales at the bar. Tonight however, every single act put in an impressive performance (maybe even surprisingly so) that gave their audience a very enjoyable night.