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Erland And The Carnival
Steinbruch, Duisburg, DE, 12.11.2010 + Das Bett, Frankfurt, DE 17.11.2010

It's folk - just completely different

It's that time of the year again. People start asking "Who's the best band of 2010?" and the answer might as well be: Erland And The Carnival! Since the release of their eponymous debut album on the Full Time Hobby label this spring, the British folk rock band, initially a trio now expanded into a five-piece touring band, has garnered rave reviews everywhere (apparently only one writer from the Irish Times wasn't impressed), stuck up a friendship with Paul Weller (who had E&TC support him at prestigious gigs at London's Royal Albert Hall and the Harlem Apollo), recorded a second album (due out in early 2011) and played countless fantastic live shows. This is a review of two of their recent gigs in Germany - you could also call it a love letter.

As the folk tradition allows, Erland And The Carnival love to take bits and pieces from the works of others and give them a new lease of life in different and exciting contexts. Their lyrical inspiration includes old traditionals, poems by famous writers like William Blake, the words by the great singer/songwriters of the 20th century (Leonard Cohen is a frequent source) and they even took ideas from an old speech at a US Congress hearing or media statements on the suicide of a 17-year-old in Derby. Musically, folk music certainly is the foundation of E&TC's sound, however, their love for Pentangle, Fairport Convention and the like is mixed with some distinctive psychedelics sprinklings - most notably in the form of a lovely vintage organ sound) and an undeniable bias towards a wonderfully raw, at times garage-y tone. This is not to say that the songs are simplistic, they are in fact, stuffed with little quirks and unexpected twists and turns, but the clarity of the overall sound is simply stunning. On paper all of this might sound a bit over-intellectual, but the resulting songs sound incredibly organic, even spontaneous. No wonder then, that E&TC are even more exciting live than on record, as they proved on the first day of their short European tour in November with their show at the Steinbruch in Duisburg.

Here we have a band that is greater than the sum of its parts - although the "parts" are not too shabby either. On the left hand side of the stage, drummer David Nock, who's worked with the likes of The Cult and Paul McCartney in the past. He is just a pure joy to watch, even if he's just playing drums and not contributing vocals as well. On the far right side, guitarist Simon Tong - you might know him from his stints in The Verve, Blur and The Good, The Band And The Queen -, who's not moving much and, at times, seems almost indifferent, even though he's playing one hell of a guitar throughout the show. In the center: Orkney-born singer Erland Cooper, who plays a battered guitar and is just the perfect front man with an electrifying stage presence. He's not saying much in-between songs, but during the songs, he's not just singing them, he's living them, really performing them with lots of gestures and facial expressions, clearly losing himself in the music. The initial trio is augmented by keyboard player and backing vocalist Andrew Bruce and bassist Danny Wheeler, who seem happy to take the backseat as far as their place on stage is concerned, even though especially Bruce's organ really shapes the overall sound.

pic But it doesn't stop there: Even with the design of their setlists (who are made up on the spot) the band likes to turn the usual conventions on their head. In Duisburg, the opening number of their debut album closed the main set, while the last track on the record started off the proceedings at the Steinbruch. Maybe they wanted to make it a little easier for those in the audience who were expecting a folk-tinged set? Because once they finished "The Echoing Green", they never sounded as gentle and almost hesitant again. It was with full force and considerable volume that they threw themselves into the second song, the wonderful Jackson C Frank cover "My Name is Carnival", the song responsible for the band's name. The energy level remained high for the rest of the show, without ever getting in the way of the many nuances the playful arrangements have to offer. The essence of the songs remained intact, even though most songs sounded considerably different, wilder and louder than on the record. Because of this, the show never got boring, despite the fact that the band played every song from their first album (except for "The Sweeter The Girl") at the show. But of course they didn't "just" play their debut album, as they augmented the set with some real treats like the stormy b-side "The Tempest" and a couple of promising new songs from the already recorded second album. It's no surprise really, that the band easily managed to establish that magical telepathic connection with the delighted audience that turns good shows into unforgettable ones! So it should go without saying that after "Love Is A Killing Thing" - starting out soft and low and swelling up to epic proportions at the end - an encore was inevitable. And the band had another real treat in store for its Duisburg audience, a cover of Leonard Cohen's "You Have Loved Enough", complete with a stunning whistling solo from four of the musicians, replacing the somewhat kitsch sax solo of the original! Wow!

After this, it obviously sounded like a good idea to attend another show on this week-long tour, even though it's always a bit of a risk to see a band with just one album out in the stores more than once in such a short amount of time. Usually, the second show is exactly like the first, minus the excitement of seeing something new and unknown. But after the fantastic Duisburg concert, described by the band itself on Twitter as an "incredible night", your correspondent was prepared to take this risk - and oh boy, it was worth it! The Frankfurt show, at Das Bett, was a completely different experience, but every bit as exceptional, despite the fact that the band's tour manager had mentioned before the show that the guys was pretty exhausted from the long drives (and the Italian pre-show dinner). Okay, at first it didn't look to promising that the band was still locked up backstage 20 minutes after their suggested showtime, but once they got up on stage, it took only a couple of minutes to turn a bunch of tired looking men into the glorious Erland And The Carnival! It definitely helped that they started off the set differently in Frankfurt. The mellow "Echoing Green" probably wouldn't have been the wake-up call they needed, so they jumped right into "My Name Is Carnival" and within a couple of verses they were "on" and had bonded with the audience (smaller in number than in Duisburg, but every bit as enthusiastic). "Gentle Gwen" followed and wasn't gentle at all, in fact the song sounded a lot tougher than a few days before. Especially at the end it showed little resemblance to the traditional tune interpreted as a soft western ballad on the album - but the folks in front of the stage loved it! Sufficiently warmed up, the band apparently didn't feel like playing the songs from their first album and instead offered five sneak previews of their next album! All songs but one fell in the aforementioned "loud and ferocious" category and it will be exciting to see how they sound in their recorded versions. Will the live experience rub off on them or will they take on a different sonic life in the studio, just like the songs on album number one?

"You Have Loved Enough", the lovely Cohen cover, made an appearance early in the set, followed by the rapturously received "Was You Ever See". It seemed unnecessary to take a breather with "The Echoing Green" after this, and evidently the band noticed this, as "Trouble In Mind", possibly their finest (sad) pop song was next, eagerly devoured by the audience. This didn't mean the band was playing it safe towards the end of their extended set though, as they had another new song in store for their listeners as well as a rousing rendition of "Stack-O-Lee" (why oh why did they only use this as a b-side?), before they left the stage for the first time.

Backstage, they apparently noticed that they hadn't introduced a new song to the repertoire so far - evidently they had added a new song per show since Duisburg - and so they returned to storm through "Love Itself Has Gone", which sounded like a total masterpiece. Since the driving "The Derby Ram", one of the absolute highlight on the album, had been cut from the main set in favor of all the new songs, it was done during the encore as well, before the evening climaxed with another pretty frantic number, "One Morning Fair".

Was this still folk? Yes, but in its raw power incarnation! After this, most people in the audience couldn't remember the last time they had seen such a thrilling show, as they besieged the merch table to buy the few things that were still up for grabs (most of the vinyl on offer in Duisburg was sold out by this point). They went home in the happy knowledge that they had just witnessed their new favorite band.

Copyright © 2010 Carsten Wohlfeld e-mail address

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