Sunday, 8 June 2008
Perched on a railway bridge in New Cross, the Amersham Arms bustles with a friendly crowd in the South Bank drizzle of New Cross. The little venue glowed with cheerful punters on Tuesday night, excited to see one of the most hotly tipped blog discoveries of recent months, The Dodos . Bringing with them a little east coast sunshine all the way from San Francisco, this three piece specialise in clattering folk-pop conceived by one Meric Long.
Their recent album, Visiter, combines bounce-about, strum-along simplicity with rhythmic complexity built upon layers of hand claps and drum taps. On record, the well-defined percussive and melodic elements of Meric Long’s composition intertwine with folkloric lyrics that oscillate between too-full romantic cheer and hapless love-lost woe, pushing through each track, enhanced through heavy use of multi-tracking. Live, Long reproduces this sound with the help of two percussions, one stationed on kit and the other somewhat of a third wheel, sometimes doubling on drums and at other times bashing away on a glockenspiel in the background.
First up on Tuesday, Port O’Brien executed a patchy set that lapsed into lengthy self-indulgent jamming at times. During particularly elated highlights, however, they secured a firm-footing in the most forward thinking bracket of new-generation folk. Floppy fringed frontman, Joshua Barnhart, proved capable of impressive vocal power, whilst his handsome band bounced behind him, full of smiles and an infectious intensity that converted much of the crowd.
The Dodos were a long time taking to the stage, delayed by technical difficulties that became all too apparent throughout the set. Disappointingly, the magic of Visiter was lost on stage. Though the dusky venue should have provided the perfect setting, the band suffered from poor balance, overpowered by percussion. There were no smattered, smile-inducing handclaps to be seen, replaced by percussionists that rendered clever rhythms with poker faces, perhaps frustrated at their inability to recreate the best of their work before an obviously receptive and enthusiastic audience. One of the album highlights, a swirling dreamy number entitled ‘Ashley’, appeared early on stripped of its poetic charm, coming across hurried and disjointed. Long’s voice is thick and warming on record, wavering magnificently at the ends of phrases and gluing the disparate musical elements together. Live, The Dodos attempted to reproduce this by saturating the vocals in reverb, losing lyrical coherence and acoustic subtleties as they were obscured by percussion.
Whilst the second half of the set was both better received and better played – a notable highlight emerging in the hypnotic trombone intro to ‘Fools’, there is some distance to go before those of us that fell in love with Visiter at first listen can be equally impressed by its live manifestation.