lundi, août 16, 2004

Echobelly live

Echobelly, Academy, Islington London

By Steven Hands

16 August 2004

The waves of Britpop left many fledgling bands stranded in its backwash. As in most vague epochs, many of the supporting cast of characters sat uneasily with the ambitions of its major players. Echobelly, principally the work of the songwriters Sonya Aurora Madan and Glen Johansson, were certainly among those swimming against the movement's testosterone-fuelled tide.

Given that it was an age when women such as Louise Wener of the band Sleeper needed to out-bloke the opposition to be heard over the shouty and beery hordes, it now seems surprising that the mannerly Echobelly did so well. Their 1994 album Every-body's Got One and 1995's On went gold and platinum, respectively. What's more surprising, they're still here.

In their commercial prime, Echobelly's ranks were peculiarly international and unusually mixed race, hinting at a creative expansiveness that never truly arrived. Though composed of the half-Indian Madan, the Swedish Johansson, and once possessing the black guitarist Debbie Smith, Echobelly were as derivative as any of their peers. With Morrissey's patronage, Echobelly opted for a vintage jingle-jangle that was equal parts The Sundays and Throwing Muses, as well as The Smiths.

Islington Academy isn't London's largest venue, but it has more than adequate space for a band that can claim neither cult kudos nor a hit to its name in eight years. Not only that, but their latest record, Gravity Pulls, has so far evaded a UK release. That Echobelly swelled the venue's para-meters is something of a triumph.

Given its limited exposure, the band takes the risky step of dedicating much of this evening's playlist to the maturer landscapes of Gravity Pulls. Though the crowd may have an ear trained for those "best of" numbers of yore, it's the fresh fruit of the new material that shines through.

"What You Deserve" (from Gravity Pulls) revels in that familiar chime so beloved of polite British indie-pop bands since time immemorial. This is a gig, after all, and the punters have paid to keep their tootsies-a-tappin'. Naturally, "Great Things", their biggest and easily most memorable hit, nets the loudest response. A hymn to youthful ambition and quiet rebellion, the audience are so pleased on its appearance that they're prepared to let a mistake or three go.

The new material isn't all down-tempo horizon-gazing and rueful reconsideration. "You Started a Fire in the Heart of a Wasted Life" ushers in an acoustic fanfare redolent of the Happy Mondays' "Kinky Afro". But despite the occasional cathartic blast, the lingering afterglow of this performance is found in the penitent tones of new compositions like "Djinn", and "Gravity Pulls" itself.

If the audience came to hear the hopes of their mid-twenties re-invigorated, they may have been dampened by much of the soul-searching. Written with reference to her Indian upbringing, Madan's "Djinn" tells of "A past I lost / One I gave away".

Growin' up is hard to do.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd