London – An early Thanksgiving came to West London Wednesday night in the shape of Indiana-raised Lily & Madeleine, here as part of a 14-date European tour. The Jurkiewicz sisters were clearly impressed by the grandeur and, indeed, civility of Bush Hall; a live music venue that has witnessed a fair number of earlier incarnations from dance hall to soup kitchen. The Rolling Stones even used it briefly as a rehearsal space in the ’60s. The gig room itself reminded Madeleine of the film Anastasia. Well it is notable for its ornate plasterwork of vines, cherubs and Corinthian columns plus its grand chandeliers. If it wasn’t for the sound desk, pocket-sized stage and red-draped backdrop, you could speculate that someone was about to serve you tea rather than hit you with their rhythm stick.
Not that percussion was included as the folk pop duo took the stage armed with a keyboard and guitar, and augmented by the versatile Shannon Lee Hayden on cello, mandolin and guitar. The sisters haven’t exactly hung around when it comes to recording. Two albums in consecutive years is a prodigious feat for a couple whose combined ages still only total 36. The girls looked demure in their mini-dresses and dark tights and kicked off proceedings with “In The Middle,” the song that first brought the American siblings to wider attention via YouTube and was instrumental in their signing to the marvellously named Asthmatic Kitty Records. It’s a gentle love song and perfect introduction to an evening of unabashed pleasantry, though Hayden’s rich cello added gravitas to the airy lightness of the sisters’ vocals.
The duo’s harmonies are instinctive, unforced and wholly natural. When singing solo, there is a nice contrast in tones; Madeleine’s is soft and clear while Lily’s is slightly earthier, pitched a little lower. We learned that Lily was back from a short illness – it might have showed in her pallor but not in her vocal. When the two voices came together it was a simply blissful union; the pair’s seamless drawl in “Spirited Away” proving to be an early highlight. Drawing the set chiefly from the two studio albums, there was a contrast between the lighter earlier material and the more textured October 2014 release, Fumes. Both the title track from this record and “Sounds Like Somewhere” from the first one bring to mind First Aid Kit. It’s perhaps an obvious and quite possibly lazy comparison; Lily & Madeleine offering measured delicacy to the Söderberg sisters’ greater attack.
A feature of the evening is how well the sound is filled out with just voices and the three instruments. The songs obviously lacked the careful layering of the recordings but Hayden’s stringed dexterity added a positive dimension. The only shame is that L&M didn’t attempt “The Wolf Is Free,” a standout from Fumes – I’d dearly have liked to hear that sitar-effect again. Nonetheless the audience was politely appreciative of everything the sisters delivered and if anyone was tempted to let the music wash over in a tide of overwhelming niceness, there were stings to rouse you, like the hypnotic bass spirals in “Can’t Admit It” and the rich cello counterpoint in “Back To The River.”
As a reminder that Lily & Madeleine dispense some dark undertones in their usually hopeful lyrics the set ended with the ghostly “Blue Blades,” a truly atmospheric piece lit by sonorous piano, haunting cello and poetic imagery (“The wind rips through the night and kills the morning”). It was quite unlike anything else heard that night and made the short encore that followed, though of course welcome, ultimately unnecessary.
Photography by Maja Smiejkowska
In The Middle
Devil We Know
You Got Out
Come To Me
Sounds Like Somewhere
Can’t Admit It
Hold Onto Now
Back To The River
Sea Of Love
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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