As far as album launches go, you can never go wrong with an intimate and extremely packed gig like the one The Payroll Union had at Club 60. With their newest album, The Mule & The Elephant, the band crossed that hill from the EP valley to the LP plateau.
This journey was not meant to be a lonely one. If we’ve learned anything from fantasy flicks is that you need a party of adventurers to overcome obstacles (or sacrifice them for the sake of plot advancement, a.k.a. Sean Beaned for the plot.)
The first act was the very lovely Hailey Beavis, who braved the snowy conditions to mesmerise with her one woman show. Rocking the electroacoustic and keyboar combo, she sang of life, dreams and nightmares, including a song about dreaming that your parents turn into space hoppers. That song had a very nifty swell effect on guitar. The other effect that played a big part on her show was the loop pedal connected to her keyboard, which served as a rhythm and atmosphere generator. The problem is that you can’t turn your back on a loop pedal, as things can go wrong. One song could’ve ended badly, but she adapted to the rhythm. Intimate and dreamy.
Second act was House of Trees, who travelled from Sweden for the show. Whereas Hailey Beavis was quiet and mournful, House of Trees was loud, jazzy and, well, also mournful, but in a way that could’ve passed as gallows’ humour. Subject matter ranged from the riots in London (‘Burn it down’) to a rather weird but loveable song about poisoning visitors so they wouldn’t leave the house. Sounds like my aunt. While their first songs had a bit of drumming (courtesy of The Payroll Union‘s Ben), the rest were just guitar, saxophone and a rather powerful voice that travelled quite well (and far) in the resonating box that is Club 60.
When The Payroll Union took the stage, the introduction was short and sweet, as they wanted the songs from their new album to weave a story. The Mule & The Elephant was played in order and the historical fact-heavy lyrics were enveloped just right by the earthen tones (bass & drum) while still jumping mightily to the skies with a swift guitar attack, courtesy of the new member of the band, Tom, on lead guitar.
Although the subject matter of history always drags the smelly carcasses of tragedy and betrayal, the music sweetens the deal, so for tracks as dark as ‘South’ or ‘Out of Missouri’, you still get some sense of hope from the music. Heck, the track that got people dancing and twirling was called ‘Hard times’, with a refrain about “no money!” being the main crux of the song. As my gramps used to say: you’re broke? fuck it, dance.
‘Through the trees’ is the closest you’ll get to a jam session by The Payroll Union. It feels like it represents the moment where the band gels together, where they don’t even need to look at each other to see where the song will progress too; the invisible forces of music just guides through the ethereal notes created. As a sort of thank you to the older fans (“I saw them knee deep in hay, man!”), they played golden faves likes ‘Julia died of cholera’ and ‘Abigail’.
A quiet artist with atmospheric prowess. A jazzy, seedy spectacle. A foursome of Dapper Dans teaching history through Americana Gothic. Sounds like a Mervyn Peake novel, but in reality it was a thoroughly enjoyable launch night.