LIVE REVIEW: These New Puritans Expanded – Barbican London 17/04/14

Live Reviews

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It is quite an incredible trajectory These New Puritans have taken. Their third and latest album Field of Reeds was a major departure from their previous records. But they didn’t change for the sake of changing and when you have a closer listen, you understand it actually was a somewhat logical follow-up.

Hidden started featuring strings and classical influences not heard on their debut. Field of Reeds however took things a whole step further. It genuinely felt like a major benchmark, not only for the band, but for the course of indie music in the 21st century. This is the kind of record that comes along about every decade.

It makes sense then that These New Puritans have chosen to present the album in its entirety and with an orchestra. This is how it is supposed to be heard. And while I’m somehow disappointed this was only a one-off show, it actually adds to the significance of the concert and makes it all the more exciting.

Of course, there’s no surprise in that we know what’s about to be played. That doesn’t strip the show from its worth though. Not at all. There is something cathartic about the music, and Jack Barnett’s performance conveys that feeling too. The vision of him hunched over the microphone reminds me of Portishead’s Beth Gibbons in the band’s famous Roseland NYC Live DVD (which funnily enough was also recorded with an orchestra). There are cameras too tonight, and no doubt once the recording will come out it will proudly rank alongside Portishead’s performance.

If there’s any surprise, though, it comes from Elisa Rodrigues. Her vocals throughout the evening are nothing short of sublime and complement Barnett’s voice nicely. The Synergy Vocal Ensemble is particularly thrilling too, as they sometime pick up on Jack Barnett’s phrase endings and bring them to an other level entirely. The whole thing sounds powerful and effortless.

The songs themselves are, obviously, fantastic. You could call them mini-operas because of the many layers they bring together.

On the little flyer we are given before the performance, Jack writes: “I consider it to be soul music really.” And it certainly is the kind of music that can make you feel something deep inside. You could write at length about the theoretical brilliance of it because there’s so much going on in the space of a song, how the instruments (be they actual instruments or voices) complement each other, how Jack Barnett’s voice seemingly floats in a space of its own, somehow detached from the music and yet so anchored in it, how his brother George manages to make the drums tuneful, and the way the brass and strings respond to each other and create tension. Ultimately, though, this is music from the soul to the soul, and anyone can ‘get it’.

After the entire Field of Reeds has been played, These New Puritans play a selection of songs from their back catalogue and new music created especially for this concert. The reworked versions of ‘Three Thousand’ and ‘We Want War’ are particularly compelling and almost aggressive. The last song to be played has rather revealing lyrics: “This is where your dreams come true. Your nightmares too.”

Hopefully, the whole performance will soon be released and you too will be able to enjoy this one of a kind concert from one of the most talented and uncompromising bands of the century.

 

Brice Detruche

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