When I arrive at the Greystones, extra chairs are being brought it to accommodate the eager punters crammed into the back room. Unsurprisingly, the second of these shows, devised by the wonderful Low Duo, is a sell-out. In one of the breaks, I ask the band – brothers Adam and Leigh Greenwood – what the appeal is, and it seems to come down to the unusual format and the atmosphere they create. Though the name of the show indicates they’ve stolen the idea, it only shares one similarity with the neckless one’s popular music show. That is, they rotate the bands after a couple of songs. Leigh’s hilarious deadpan delivery as compere is notable distinction from the original, and it frames the evening perfectly.
Names are plucked out of a hat by members of the audience to give us a running order and we’re away. Caroline Francis, unknown to your writer before this evening, is up first. She’s a very talented pianist, and her vocals, though often familiar for the singer-songwriter genre, have some punch when she pulls off a very good imitation of Regina Spektor. ‘In Your Arms’ has an entrancing repetitive piano riff that reminds me of Rufus Wainwright’s ‘The Art Teacher’, and its the highlight of her set. She apologises for performing her only love song, and though it comes close to being moving, she’s stronger elsewhere. Francis is at her best when she experiments with her playing; changing tempo mid-song, jumping over the keys with a maniacal energy, and spitting out her verse. She’s finding where she fits as a songwriter but undoubtedly has a real gift.
Mike Hughes, coming off the back of some extensive national radio play, has been around a while, though his stature has grown in the last year. Touring with Miles Kane and recording with his band would give anyone a shot in the arm, but it was his recent show at Tramlines that really hit me. His apocalypto-preacher-man persona has come to the fore, and it was a delight to watch. Here, he’s sans band, though still knows how to sock you one to the gut. ‘Black Gold’ is a terrifying gospel stomp that sinks into your skin; ‘Angie’ is the mournful ballad of yearning; and a new, untitled song, is plucked out the Hank Williams songbook – a beautiful, lilting country song. Elsewhere, on ‘Oh Mercy’, he tries out some tex-mex flourishes, and it’s clear his new songs exude the confidence appropriate to his moment in the spotlight. In truth, the venue’s too small for his lungs, but it’s great to see him on his own; just that enormous voice and simple guitar.
Chloe Jade-Simmons is another discovery for me tonight, and a very welcome one. Her simple finger-picking accompanies her husky voice best. She also knows when to use her impressive range, soaring on the choruses, and coming down to a rich whisper for the verses. She controls her voice brilliantly. A particular highlight is when she picks up the 12-string for ‘Architect’, which compliments the depth of the vocal. She never overindulges her obvious talent, and it’s refreshing. There’s a discipline to her writing too. On ‘Best Behaviour’, she evokes Maddy Prior, which is a huge compliment from this reviewer. A cover of Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’ takes much of the melody out of the verse, but the chorus is delivered with the same confidence she exhibits throughout. However, she saves her best, and most crushing song, til last, and the hook of ‘You’re broken, I’m lonely / let’s fuck and get it over with’ is utterly devastating. It’s the moment of the night which stops everyone in the room dead.
It’s hard to imagine the prolific Low Duo getting any better, but the new songs they play tonight demonstrate a very exciting direction. Dark, discordant and fucked up, they’re reminiscent of the paranoia of Radiohead’s Amnesiac. Experimenting with spoken word on ‘Weather Send Me Home’, Leigh’s delivery has a casual panache; the steady menace of ‘Ambulance’ is chilling, and on If I Could Could Have Total Control, they outdo The National for beautifully mournful melody. Leigh continues to stretch his voice, and his melodies are becoming more adventurous and distinctive with each new record. He twists and weaves in and out of Adam’s precise and punctured guitar playing, and yet again, they thrill me. There are few bands who evoke such terrifying beauty while leaving you with an unsettling sense of foreboding.
I was fortunate enough to be on the other side of the glass for the first ‘Later… without Jools Holland’ a year ago, and as a performer, it was one of my favourite gigs. The format does keep things fresh but it’s also to do with the warmth of the evening, and the way Low Duo have lovingly created such a unique event. It reminds me of the family atmosphere of a house gig or a street party, and for that, they should be very proud. Here’s to many more.
Words: Pete David