Liverpool Music Week: Misery Guts and The Big House @ Mojo review

Posted on 10 November 2010
By Richard Lewis
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Dan Wilson, erstwhile singer of much-tipped Liverpool band The Cubicle transported Mojo back to a time in acoustic-based music that predates Bob Dylan as he navigated his way through a mournful, Johnny Cash inspired set.

Vocally a ringer for the sonorous tones of Stuart Staples, frontman of long lost 1990s group Tindersticks, many of his tracks sound like they share a similar vintage to Alan Lomax’s Field Recordings of ancient American folk songs.

‘That was the new theme for the Formula One’, Wilson grins self deprecatingly after one epically slow lament. One track, bearing a more than passing resemblance to Leonard Cohen’s, or possibly Jeff Buckly’s Hallelujah, can be regarded on it’s own merits, not through the prism of the gruesome cover versions following the original.

This Liverpool Music Week show on Friday was in full swing soon enough, with stripped down performances of the highest calibre under the Mojo lights, which was the perfect space for an acoustic assault.

The Big House slipped silently on to the stage next. Approaching country and folk from a different angle to Dan Wilson, the duo instil a brighter, sweeter tone to the two genres.

In spite of the slightly muffled PA their boy-girl harmonies mesh seamlessly with new track Too Far Gone especially swaying along beautifully.

Despite admitting suffering from a severe cold, Candie Payne’s voice was in sublime form, cutting through the air like a scythe.

Co-vocalist Paul Molloy is similarly excellent, his acoustic arpeggios dancing nimbly around the couple’s voices. New track, the Simon and Garfunkel inflected Sweetheart compromising of the couplet ‘We’ll drink the finest wine/Take diamonds from the mine’ breezily updates the New York duo’s effortless melodies and relocates it to present day Liverpool.

The filmic Pebble Lane meanwhile finds their voices perfectly intertwined as the duo’s delicate but dark songs cast a spell over the audience.

New track Stitches tale of emotional turmoil highlights the turbulent undercurrent of the group’s lyrics, given space by the sparse acoustic arrangement. Following on from their cover of Gene Clark gem Here Without You, Counting Thunder is possibly the highpoint of the set.

With Candie’s honeyed vocals arching high above the audience, this and the final track, reminiscent of country music deity Bobby Gentry suggest a kind of emotional catharsis as the singing grows in volume and intensity. Structuring the set to conclude on an emotional highpoint, the couple depart the stage to rapturous applause.

Misery Guts’ seemingly endless gigs around the city centre and on tour supporting Cherry Ghost meanwhile have clearly reaped rewards as they stride confidently into their set. Baring the lyrical claws that dwell beneath the melodic fur of their songs, the four-piece boom out of the speakers, having seemingly grown in confidence over the past six months.

Moving around freely while singer David Hirst remains stoically rooted to the spot, the band have become more animated onstage in recent times. In particularly strong voice this evening, the vocalist leads the four piece through the set in robust fashion with I No U No providing one of the highlights.

If You Ever, boasting a louder rhythm section than on record emphasizes the new tougher sounding approach while the chiming Brydsian guitars ring out with brilliance.

One new track powered by mandolin effectively distils the melodic essence of R.E.M. down into four compact minutes, whilst the sinewy Hispanic twist of another suggests new, alternate paths the Southport troubadours could take.