Laura Veirs, Union Chapel, London
Pigtailed poet gives off good vibrations
Monday 28 February 2011
She can really play it, she can really lay it down.
So opens Laura Veirs's gig, in a hymn to her heroine Carol Kaye, a prolific session musician who – as the song goes on to namecheck – played bass on the likes of "Good Vibrations" and "Homeward Bound". In her pigtails and glasses, nodding earnestly over an acoustic guitar, Veirs seems like a schoolgirl singing about her crush.
Actually, she's a 37-year-old mother who brought her baby on tour and while, like Kaye, she may not exactly be a household name, she does also bring a back-catalogue of seven albums' worth of wistful, poetic neo-folk and swathes of quietly devoted fans.
She's accompanied by the viola and keyboard player Alex Guy and guitarist Tim Young. Both also lend their voices to a lush harmonious layering, which reverberates around the octagonal walls of the lovely Union Chapel, as on "Sun Is King", when they rise over the question "why is he standing in his own backyard" before the dying fall of "crying at his fallen-down house of cards."
In between tracks, their tales of life on the road – broken-down vehicles, vomiting and diarrhoea – are hardly romantic, and told with a deadpan delivery. It's this ever-so-slightly wry tone, too, that stops Veirs's lyrics (all those moons and stars and oceans) from drifting into the unbearably fey. But her voice also suits her lyrical flights of fancy. When she sings, "The pollinators flex their wings and take into the air/ spin their emeraldine webs across the swales and prairies", each word seems to fly from her, delivered with a delicate precision, aided by a viola chirruping like an insect.
It's not all so serious. After the old traditional lullaby "All the Pretty Little Horses", Veirs explains it's known as the "song of songs", because the chord progression is so common, and she and Young jam through a series of tracks to prove it, from "Don't You Want Me" to "Eye of the Tiger" to "Ms Jackson".
But the evening is dominated by material from latest record, July Flame, the title track of which is one of the catchiest numbers (although the addition of an electronic drumbeat feels a little forced after all the folksy simplicity). "I Can See Your Tracks" is another highlight, and seems to be bathed in a honey-warmth, as their choral "oohs" swell up over a pretty repeated guitar refrain.
There are more melancholy moments too: something in the a cappella harmonies and hand-clapping of "The Old Cow Died" seems slightly sinister, and it's followed by "Through December", a shivery, ghostly number from her first signed album, which is perfect church-in-winter fare. Veirs herself is effusive about the building and its atmosphere – calling it "an amazing feat of genius that someone could build this", and thanking us for "vibing" them. We feel the Veirs vibe too: she's proved she can really lay it down.
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