Underscore Orkestra (Whelan’s front bar – Saturday)
Technically, playful Portlanders Underscore Orkestra aren’t actually part of the Camden Crawl, but having scored themselves a corner spot in Whelan’s front bar, they steal a sizeable chunk of the crawl’s audience. The setup is intriguing: they fuse acoustic guitar, bongo, accordion and a cello made from a tin bath and part of a banister, producing a sound that fuses Eastern European, gypsy and jazz influences. That wacky amalgamation seems to sway from Gogol Bordello territory to barn-dance standards, with extended instrumentals allowing front man Jorge to teach audience members to swing dance. Accordion player Willow has a hefty vocal input, too, and a voice that flits across a bewildering range in a charmingly unpredictable manner. When CD payment involves sticking a note to the cello player’s forehead, we don’t take much encouraging.
Come On Live Long (Whelan’s main room – Friday)
Dubliners Come On Live Long have an unfortunate billing – first on Friday night, both early and with Duke Special performing right upstairs – yet their modernized folk style is immediately charming. Co-ed vocals are wrapped around insightful lyrics, and layered with a well-constructed, minimalist layer of synth rhythms over the top. It’s not a natural approach to folk – they’re clearly not traditionalists – but the subtlety of the fusion is what makes this band great. Playing to a small crowd doesn’t seem to offset the collective energy in the least, and Louise Gaffney’s mellow, gorgeously offbeat approach to her vocal contribution is particularly impressive. With two EPs under their belt to date, Come On Live Long might still lack that single special track, but the overall affect is highly promising.
Clock Opera (The Village – Saturday)
Clock Opera’s colourful take on indie-pop is propped up live by the sheer, bouncing energy of front man Guy Connelly. The bearded singer doesn’t stop his stage-hopping for the duration of their 45 minute set, which packs plenty of bite in singles like the thumping Lesson No. 7. The album tracks are every bit as strong, exploring hushed, deep-running vocals and at times coming across a little like Elbow, only interesting. There’s a bit of a format to a Clock Opera song: wistful, mellow opening followed by punchy, infectious chorus and unpredictable, fiddly bridge, but it’s a formula with enough wiggle room to keep things extremely interesting. Their star is rising, and judging by tonight, Clock Opera could be significant player on the mainstream indie scene this time next year.
Daithi (feat. Elaine Mai) (Whelan’s main room – Friday)
Anyone still glancing back at Daithi’s televised appearances of a few years back, when he stormed the talent show scene with a series of virtuoso fiddle solos, is in for a shock when they stumble upon the modern day version. Today, Daithi’s a purveyor of looped, synthetic dance floor fillers, and the fiddle’s musical role has been seriously minimized. The strings still offers a looped stroke or two to most mixes – a nice stand out in a genre that often feels flooded with similar artists – but Daithi as an electronic maestro is toe-tapping, driving and cleverly constructed in its own right. The highlight of this set is without doubt when the main man is joined by fellow west-coast stalwart Elaine Mai. The natural connection between the two on stage transfers into a gorgeously refined mashing of musical styles, one that live resembles rising star Grimes. The fusion was brought on by Daithi’s self-confessed inability to sing. If the collaborations (we’ve been promised a lot more on the album) remain this good, we can expect some real hits.
Let’s Buy Happiness (Upstairs at Whelan’s – Saturday)
While Let’s Buy Happiness have a less than impressive sound set up for their Whelan’s show (the vocals are somewhat drowned by their intertwined, playful guitar set up), the talent of this sizable group of Geordies – propped up by the distinctive, heart wrenching vocal stylings of front woman Sarah Hall – still shine. The five-piece claim a Modest Mouse influence, and they do often evoke the emotional yet deadpan delivery of a ‘Mouse album track, with some soaring highs poking through in the likes of ‘Fast Fast’ (the video for which, incidentally, is superbly weird). Their ‘ones to watch’ tag certainly seems justified on tonight’s showing, even if we would rather they balanced things better. Wistfully wonderful.
As published on Goldenplec.com, May 2012 – videos added.