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Juana Molina - Roundhouse, London, 13/1/2007

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 7 / 1 / 2007

Juana Molina - Roundhouse, London, 13/1/2007


At a very special evening at the refurbished Roundhouse in London, Dominic Simpson enjoys a very special evening of folk music from long lost 60's cult star Vashti Bunyan, San Fransicans Vetiver, Argentinian Juana Molina and London folkie Adem Ilhan

The refurbished Roundhouse in Chalk Farm is a grand sight indeed. Plush and spectacular, it has more in common with the Royal Albert Hall, the Union Chapel, or even Shakespeare’s Globe, than Brixton Academy. This venue saw some legendary gigs back in the 60’s by artists such as Pink Floyd, Cream and Jimi Hendrix. The spectacular auditorium feels like a huge circular cathedral, with a roof stretching into the sky, and the whole place feels like it has acres of space (though the same can’t be said about the men’s toilets). One look around at the well-dress clientele reminds me that I’m not at the Bull and Gate here. As benefits such a plush, highbrow venue – one that sees drama and theatre appear regularly on its bill - it’s unlikely that you are going to get Raging Speedhorn playing here, and tonight very much fits the kind of gig that you expect the Roundhouse to put on. Tonight is all about the folk, and at the centre of it Vashti Bunyan, the English folk princess who appeared briefly in the 60’s with a cover of Jagger and Richards’ ‘Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind’ before disappearing to the Scottish islands (to a hippy commune near the Isle of Skye), where she crafted ‘Just Another Diamond Day’, an album that was universally ignored at the time but which has since grown in cult stature. For the next thirty-five years, she then disappeared from sight, before returning to find herself a folk icon. Her resurrection was only enhanced by collaborations with Animal Collective among others, and culminated in a new album on Fat Cat, ‘Lookingaftering’. This gig isn’t all about her, however. Instead, CM Tours have came up with the idea of an ensemble gig in which she will play alongside San Fransicans Vetiver, Argentina’s very own pixie Juana Molina, and London folkie Adem Ilhan, who was instrumental in organising the Homefires set of gigs at London’s Conway Hall, which have traversed similar terrain to tonight, with performances by his own band, Joanna Newsom, [Smog], Beth Orton, and countless others. The four acts weave in and out of the stage, with all members present collaborating on a song in which there are no lyrics but murmured sighs. Meanwhile, Vetiver command two or three songs on their own, their bucolic songs accentuated by double bass. You can hear echoes of English folk-rock artists such as Nick Drake and Fairport Convention in their sound, as well as modern troubadours such as Devendra Barnhart, with whom vocalist Andy Cabic has collaborated, in their relaxed sound, though they rarely stray into the kind of stranger territory that would bring them close to Akron Family or Alexander Tucker. Juana Molina, by contrast, eschews a backing band altogether, instead employing numerous pedals to weave guitar and synthesiser loops on a stretched-out 'Salvese Quien Pueda', before looping her own voice as well so that she is harmonizing with herself. This former comedy television actress enraptures the audience for a spellbinding ten minutes that could have gone on for much, much longer, and leaves Adem Ilhan to apologetically admit after, “I can’t believe I have to follow that”. A former member of post-rockers Fridge, he then follows Molina’s triumphant set with hushed workouts on all kinds of instruments, raging from a zither and autoharp to double bass, sometimes so quiet that you can hear a pin drop, accompanied by delicate vocals. If the title track of ‘Just Another Diamond Day’ – aired tonight - is Vashti Bunyan’s most well known song, it is ‘Winter Is Blue’ from that album that really illustrates just how intense and emotionally fragile Bunyan can be live. While much of that album has a warm glow and youthful innocence that belies the times, ‘Winter…’ feels much more like a track from her new album ‘Lookingaftering’, which takes on a darker, wearier palette than the innocence of ‘Diamond Day’ 35 years ago, with it’s pondering of the break-up of a relationship, the passing of the seasons acting as a backdrop. When she sings “I am alone, waiting for no one…everything’s leaving / if my heart freezes I won’t feel the breaking”, it’s hard not to feel moved, such is the fragility of the songs and her mournful voice. Meanwhile, ‘Wayward’ from ‘Lookingaftering’ is introduced as a song “about someone sitting at the kitchen washing the dishes with her arms covered in soap water, and with three kids, wondering how she got there”, with it’s quiet condemnation of “the other one who goes out tonight / and comes back home to find me sitting pretty…and a band of wayward children / who their father’s left behind”, the protagonist watching as “days going by…life getting past in a world without end.” The hushed reverence from the audience fits her shy, breathy vocals, and it’s an intense performance. It’s the ending that’s really stunning, though, and indicates just how fantastic the sound is at this new venue. All of the musicians involved in the project join in for an encore cover of Jagger and Richard’s‘Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind’, the instruments crystal clear in the mix. As they salute the crowd, it’s a brilliant gesture that links 35 years of music – and much further back to the origins of folk music, of course, before it’s marriage with rock music, patented by Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and countless others. It’s a lineage that continues all the way to the present, and one that’s brilliantly encapsulated on this triumphant night.

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Juana Molina - Roundhouse, London, 13/1/2007

Juana Molina - Roundhouse, London, 13/1/2007

Juana Molina - Roundhouse, London, 13/1/2007

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