Delta Spirit's PR machine has been working overtime back home in the States, where this rookie San Diego quintet have already appeared on Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel's popular late night TV shows. Over there, they are one of the industry insider's hottest tips. But on this side of the Atlantic the band seem to have been overlooked by the music press's "Big in 2009" consensus.
This Water Rats gig is the first of five modest UK dates destined to show off the loose blues-rock Americana of their forthcoming debut album, Ode to Sunshine, which was self-produced in the deeply de rigueur setting (think Bon Iver, Ray Lamontagne, Henry Thoreau) of an isolated cabin.
Formed in Southern California in 2005, Delta Spirit comprises the plaid shirt and powerful, ragged vocal of former busker Matt Vasquez; frayed guitar from Sean Walker; bolshy drumming by Brandon Young; the fetching facial hair of bassist Jon Jameson; and the multi-instrumental talents of Kelly Winrich, who takes on keyboards, guitars and assorted percussion with gusto. They have been touring US towns alongside Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Cold War Kids, and elements of both those bands' sounds also permeate theirs.
At first, Delta Spirit's songs – and particularly Vasquez's vocal – seem in danger of getting lost behind a wall of noise, the small venue's muddy PA producing little more than the drumbeat and some fuzzy chord changes. But the mixing improves as their set progresses.
Perhaps a "sound of 2009" label won't stick to this band because their sound is already time-worn: the rousing "set me free!" chorus of "Streetwalker" is pure Springsteen; "Bleeding Bells" is ramshackle and Dylanesque; while the honky-tonk piano of "Trashcan", the current single, sounds like the Rolling Stones at their rollicking best. It's played with the beat bashed out exuberantly on an old trashcan lid – predictable, perhaps, but a nice touch all the same. The set's other highlight is the uptempo, spirit-lifting "Children", which has at its heart a great big shimmering guitar riff of a chorus.
The brief set finishes with the joyful, harmonica-and-harmonies-laden chant of "People Turn Around", for which the band gathers at the front of the stage, as if the crowd is a campfire somewhere in the Californian desert where Ode to Sunshine was recorded. Here's hoping they'll find their British following fond enough to return to these shores for some larger, lengthier shows.