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Shearwater - St Giles Church, London, 22/11/2008

  by Anthony Middleton

published: 24 / 11 / 2008

Shearwater - St Giles Church, London, 22/11/2008


In the sedate environment of St Giles' church in central London, Chris O' Toole watches acclaimed progressive folk rockers play an emotive, thoroughly engaging set

Initially planned as a one off venture – matching the talents of Will Sheff of Okkervil River with those of Kingfisher's Jonathan Meiburg – Shearwater has grown into a viable concern in its own right, issuing four albums over the course of the last eight years. The most recent, 'Rook', has seen acclaim heaped on the American outfit – praising their cerebral, emotive progressive-folk. Touring the UK in support of this record the duo – augmented by drums, stings, trumpet and guitar – fit seamlessly into the sedate environment created by the Palladian-styled St. Giles' church in central London. Although the group make a muted entrance to the stage, it becomes immediately apparent Meiburg is the real star of the show. Seated at a giant piano shoehorned awkwardly into the modest space, it is his voice which controls the tempo and direction of the performance – soaring, choir-boy like, into the skies before crashing desolately down again. On tracks such as 'Leviathan Bound' and 'Lost Boys' it becomes almost angelic – appropriate for this evening's location. There are comparisons to be drawn with Nick Drake – albeit an ornate, baroque version of the great composer – as well as more contemporary Will Oldham and Bill Callaghan. But where Shearwater differ is their willingness to lose control in the moment of the music – as though overcome. While Bonnie 'Prince' Billy et al. use coy irony and black comedy to alleviate the gathering doom of their work, Shearwater thrive in it, heaping layer upon layer of melancholy onto proceedings. Naturally the crowd, occupying around 80 per cent of the venue this evening, gratefully receives each word as a new gospel, delivered by a very different performer from a new pulpit. At times, when the tracks, including 'On the Death of the Waters', reach their crafted crescendos you wonder what those who fill the pews on Sunday mornings would make of the performance. But an aura of respect and emotional resonance are the key defining features this evening. 'Rooks' and 'Century Boys' – which are reminiscent of Alisdair Roberts or the vocal flourishes of Rachel Unthank and the Winterset - are both well received later on by a crowd never anything shy of rapt. With touches of modern Scott Walker also thrown into the mix, Meiburg and his band present their melancholy hyperbole with aplomb, never losing sight of their audience and are always entertaining and thoroughly engaging.

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Shearwater - St Giles Church, London, 22/11/2008

Shearwater - St Giles Church, London, 22/11/2008

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Interview (2007)
Shearwater - Interview
After being dropped by their record label, Shearwater have just re-released their 2006 fourth album, 'Palo Santo', on the larger Matador Records with five songs re-recorded and a CD of extra tracks. John Clarkson speaks to front man Jonathan Meiburg about it

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Scala, London, 3/4/2012
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