Beth Jeans Houghton Live Review, The Louisiana, 28/02/12

Beth Jeans Houghton

See more photos from this gig here: Gallery: Beth Jeans Houghton @ Louisiana – 28/02/12

First up tonight was local youngster Emma McNeill who, like many an aspiring young musician these days, does a reasonable line in pop covers filmed in her bathroom on YouTube but, more promisingly, is touring her own songs around Bristol and Bath’s smaller venues where, with the help of a solid band, they are bound to sound better. Starting their set with a lyricless soundscape they then moved into a set that ranged from somewhere around soft pop (Get Away reminded me of The Corrs) to a something a bit edgier. Vocally, the intonation has hints of Kate Nash but at times both more tuneful and more rock. Overall a very competent performance but in the current crowded sphere of female singer-songwriters McNeill will need to work on finding her sound and owning it rather than reproducing what’s already out there.

Next up were five-piece Brum-folkers Goodnight Lenin who crammed themselves and their instruments onto the Louisiana’s little stage with a solid set full of songs both up and downbeat. The obvious thing to say about them as a folk band with a fiddle and some “funny looking guitars” is that they’re a bit like Mumford and Sons, and that comparison must follow them everywhere, but in truth their sound is more often closer to Simon & Garfunkel, for example on tracks like Edward Colby. Combining the music with some enjoyable banter including their disappointment about the closure of Bristol’s contraversial branch of Hooters, the set built to an excellent finale with Glory Be which, as in this video, left the crowd shouting for more.

After a fair amount of faffing on stage to take down Goodnight Lenin’s extensive gear and set up more instruments pedals and wires, Beth Jeans Houghton took to the stage with the four Hooves that make up her band (The Hooves of Destiny) only to find that BJH’s guitar amp hadn’t been mic’ed up. Eventually though the band launched into their set and here’s an act that have found their sound, even if I’m not sure how to describe it – it combines genres with abandon – most commonly there’s folk, pop, indie and some operatic vocals but there’s also some occasional country influence, a bit of spoken-word mid-song, some shouting and the odd trumpet interlude!

Touring at the moment in support of their debut album – Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose – Houghton’s live persona is relaxed and eminently likable – you get the feeling from the whole band that they’re enjoying what they’re doing and they do actually want to be in front of you playing their music rather than the feeling that they’ve been pushed out of the studio door by the record company that you get from some bands. On this night at The Louisiana, Houghton’s aunt and uncle were in attendance, which prompted an apology for the lyrics of one song – “looks like cum, smells like flowers, I use shampoo in the shower” – but there was also a story of a monster in their Travelodge the previous night and the dedication of a song to the guy in the crowd who looked like Houghton’s brother.

Musical highlights for me were Liliputt, I Will Return I Promise, Dodecahedron and the 50s harmonies of Honeycomb. Finishing the set with a cover of Madonna’s Like A Prayer (with backup vocals from Goodnight Lenin) was not necessarily “good” but was certainly a lot of fun.

Houghton has been on the cusp of “breaking through” for a few years now and it’s possible that her sound is just too different or too difficult to pin down to ever have mass appeal but this was the most all-round entertaining gig I’ve been too this year so far and I hope that she and the Hooves are able to carry on doing what they’re doing for as long as they’re enjoying it.

Here’s the video for Dodecahedron which, for me at least, evokes photographer Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills series…