Last years concert up the road at Cologne’s Kulturkirche with it’s eyecatching backdrop is imminent for release as a dvd. But although visitors to the Harmonie show had to ‘make do’ without the stained-glass windows they did have the eye-catching ladies themselves – Madison Violet – providing an ideal way to mellow out at the end of a rare hot weekend.
It’s never easy to be a support group. It must be particularly difficult when you are just one person, and double that difficulty if you’re singing quiet ballads with just an acoustic guitar for company. Enter Jack Savoretti. Son of an Italian father and a half German half Polish mother , Savoretti was brought up in London before moving to live in Switzerland, all of which makes him very much a man of the World. His performance is also that of a world-weary troubadour and there’s something of the gypsy about that quiet figure bent over the centre-stage microphone and shaking shoulder length hair away from world-weary eyes. At first there’s a quiet air of expectancy, after just a few lines of the opener it becomes, literally, quiet air. An entire audience utterly spellbound. Before the beautiful ‘Harder than Easy’ He recalls the breakdown of a relationship: “Broken glasses, to broken plates, to broken hearts” and that’s just his between song banter. A tuneful Leonard Cohen, a modern Paul Simon, a story teller, a gypsy… Jack Savoretti is someone to check out if you still value those all too rare virtues of thoughtful lyrics and tuneful melodies.
The same virtues apply to our main act of the evening Canadian girls Madison Violet. “I can’t tell you how many times my father sat me down at the kitchen table when I was a kid and told me to never tell a lie.” Says Brenley MacEachern (the blonde of the duo) in a 2008 interview with the Gay & Lesbian website ‘Xtra’. This honesty is a key to their success, the audience feels a part of the family, or at the very least like close friends. When raven haired Lisa MacIsaac mentions that there are woollen hats on sale at the souvenir desk “all lovingly knitted by Brenley’s mother” even I momentarily believe her. Could those big green eyes lie?
Honesty is reflected in the best of the duos lyrics too. ‘Baby in the Black & White’ and ‘The Woodshop’ are favourites of mine and MV at their best. Honest emotions with no heavy wrapping or disguise, The words are direct, and truthful– from someone taught to ‘Never tell a lie’. They come from MV’s best disc, 2009’s ‘Fool For Crying’ and disappointingly they’re not played tonight. Plenty of that disc is however on offer, from the jaunty pop of ‘Crying Your Eyes Out’ that opens the show through the fiddle powered ‘Lauralee’ to the fiercely commercial chorus driven ‘Small of my Heart’ which has the whole audience joining in word perfect on its chorus. I suspect that not many of the people listening are new to the music, or have ‘turned up on the night to see who’s playing’ – Many of these people have come a long way with the band, and quite possibly with the motorway, to be sitting here singing “Whenever I’m away I hold you in the small of my heart” this evening.
Since the bands last visit to Bonn (a musically odd but inspired Rockpalast Crossroads pairing that saw them following Metal-Rock band Baby Woodrose) they have a new CD to promote, and songs from it account for most of the non ‘No Fool For Trying’ material on offer. It would have a hard job competing with it’s 2009 counterpart which is a favourite disc of mine, but even if the new songs don’t quite seem to be as deep personally (with the exception of MacEachern’s ‘Christy Ellen Francis’ a beautiful tribute to her Grandmother who has 16 grandchildren, hence the chorus alluding to “thirty two mittens”) they are still high calibre in their senses of both melody and edgy honesty. On ‘Home’ for example there is an undertone to the chorus “It’s calm, it’s grace, everything’s in place” that suggests maybe everything isn’t quite in place. It’s the razors edge that keeps me coming back to the music of MV. The chocolate chip surprise in the otherwise soft ice-cream of their sound.
Their isn’t much drama to be gained from the static stage lighting, so after catching some pictures of the band I find a place towards the Harmonie Bar which is side-on to the main stage. Even from here you can almost hear a pin drop, no one dares to disturb the atmosphere by asking for a beer it seems. The overall view isn’t so good, but I’m rewarded by noticing from here something I hadn’t/couldn’t see from stage-front. The girls lean into their microphones to sing, and lean back to play their guitars, in perfect unison without even glancing in each others directions. It’s a natural harmony with each other as compelling as their singing. Now, as I look at the back cover picture of the new cd, there they stand side by side, each with right arm bent towards their hips. I’m willing to wager they weren’t even aware of it as they posed. MacEachern joked in the show about being pestered by a man in a bar recently even after she told him she was with her boyfriend. “Maybe you should have said you were with your girlfriend’ joked MacIsaac.
When they come to the evenings close and finally let rip a little with ‘Cindy Cindy’ there is more than a little of the Everlys in their duet, and you would be forgiven for thinking the girls were sisters, with ‘brother’ Adrian Lawryshun an unsung hero on Contra-bass. It’s a pity that Jack Savoretti wasn’t in the hall when they invited him up to join them (I would guess he was caught out by the show ending at 9.30pm!) that would have made for some super vocalising I’m sure.
Hopefully both acts will be back here again before too long, but in the meantime there’s always that Madison Violet DVD from Kulturkirche to look forward to. Great music and great songs – It couldn’t be any better than the Bonn show – except of course for the stained-glass windows.