Monkey Swallows the Universe / Hyacinth House @ The Social, 26 March 2007

Friday, 30 March 2007, 12:23 | Category : Uncategorized
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Anyone who knows this blog will know of my love for The End of the Road Festival. But it’s not just a festival. Luckily for us Londoners, the organisers also put on monthly gigs at The Social which both provide the capital with a dose of fine new bands, and possibly give a sneak preview for some of the artists who may be gracing the stages at Larmer Tree Gardens in mid-September.

The residency started in January, but Monday was the first night I was able to make it down (shame, as last month featured Loney, Dear). It’s been a long time since I’ve been to The Social and I’ve forgotten what an odd venue it is. On the plus side it’s a fine bar, and has the small-venue intimacy I always prefer. But live music seems to have been an afterthought. The stage is encroached by concrete table-booths, the room is very long and thin, and you have to brush past the drummer on the way to the loo!

These things aside, it’s the quality of the music that counts, and on Monday there was plenty of that. I had never heard of Hyacinth House before, so when I walked in to see the big grizzly guy on stage I was at first intrigued, then won over by their brand of woozy Americana – which takes in Laurel Canyon, the atmospheric mid-West, and even the Appalachians.

For band with the same name as a Doors song, they’re not rubbish, and given their music, they’re not American. Hyacinth House is actually two hairy, affable Swedish brothers – Mack (guitar) and Fredrik (harmonica, banjo). Midway through their set Mack suggests “Maybe we’ll fuck you up a little bit now”, but they’re never likely to do that. Their bend of Neil Young and bluegrass is hardly going to rock The Social’s foundations. Neither would I want it to. It’s fine as it is.

Download: Hyacinth House – Ghost Town

Buy their self-titled debut album from CD Baby

Headliners Monkey Swallows the Universe aren’t going to be fucking anyone up either. You know that when one of their number comes onstage and steps up to the mic brandishing a recorder. Plus their indiepop is too sweet and their demeanour a little too shy for acts of hardness. But again, they’re fine the way they are.

The band was formed by Singer Nat Johnson and guitarist Kevin Gori in 2004, and expanded to a five-piece in 2005. They released their debut album The Bright Carvings last year to some acclaim (it made the highly-regarded Rough Trade top 100 albums for 2006). And it seems they already have a bit of a fanbase. “How many times have you seen the Monkeys” I overheard a guy next to me asking. The answer was multiple. Then there were the repeated cries of “Jimmy!” after ‘The Monkeys’ finished their set. This turned out to be a cheery little song called Jimmy Down the Well, which rounded off the evening nicely.

Before that they had played a set of charming and tuneful indie-pop, with the classic ingredients of violin, cello, recorder and glockenspiel to add to their acoustic guitars and drums. They kept announcing new songs, though almost all of them were new to me. Particular highlights were Florence (a mere b-side) and main set closer Elizabeth and Mary, which fuzzed up the guitar sound a bit and provided a better showcase for the quality of Nat’s voice than their other songs.

On the evidence of this gig, and the acts already selected for the festival, the EOTR organisers are people with impeccable taste. I’ll certainly be back to the Social for more.

Download: Monkey Swallows the Universe – Florence
Download: Monkey Swallows the Universe – Jimmy Down the Well

Buy The Bright Carvings from Rough Trade.

I have a few more photos at my Flickr.

MTSU release their new single Little Polveir on Loose Records on 16 April.

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