The bigger the next big thing, the smaller the room you want them playing in. You want the people who got inside to be thankful they made it in (not least because the more exclusive the show, the more hysterical the tweets afterwards: ‘You plebs couldn’t get a ticket, but I saw the very future of the planet!’). You want the air so thick with heat and chatter before the band comes on that there is a sense of event before a note has been played. You want everyone there — band and audience alike — to feel they are at the only place that matters, regardless of it being a nondescript Thursday evening.
Gabriels came to London from Los Angeles off the back of one EP, an effusive endorsement from Sir Elton John — to be fair, an effusive endorsement from Sir Elton John is in danger of becoming a basic minimum requirement for any new artist — and a set of confident predictions that they could be the next big thing. That’s ‘the next big thing’ not in the sense that teenagers are going to be streaming them, but that grown-ups might actually shell out real cash for their music. For Gabriels are pitched perfectly at that place where adult meets euphoric.
Gabriels are a trio (expanded to seven for live performance): two producers, fronted by Jacob Lusk, a gospel singer and choir director who brought size in both the metaphorical and literal senses. His voice, and the way he controlled it was transfixing —often keeping the microphone a couple of feet away so he could sing with power yet also give the effect of somehow being in another space. Set a match to him and he’d burn the white flame of charisma.
He is an extraordinary talent, and producers Ryan Hope and Ari Bazoulian — like football coaches entrusted with a star forward who isn’t going to do any defending, so they have to build the team around him — ensured every musical background highlighted him in a new way. And so Gabriels danced between gospel and classic soul and small-band vocal jazz and house: you could hear the artfulness because it was delivered with joyous perfection, but you could also hear the commercial common sense. There’s nothing here to scare off Adele fans, but there’s plenty to bring in those who fancy their tastes more expansive: it’s often a matter as simple as placing something very user-friendly in a slightly different context, such as the pop-house banger ‘Love and Hate in a Different Time’ being driven not by thudding electronics, but by violin and acoustic drums.
You don’t need to have ears of gold to know Gabriels are going to be making their way a lot further. There are three more London shows in November: good luck getting a ticket, but if you manage it, you won’t be disappointed.
There was no crush when Field Music came to the Electric Ballroom: the place was maybe a third full. And what a shame, because they’re such a terrific group they deserve more. They’re an art-rock band with the facility to write terrific melodies; both David and Peter Brewis sing beautifully; they’re funny and charming — and they’ve been nominated for the Mercury Prize. And maybe 400 people came out to see them. No wonder that a few years ago they compared being in the band to ‘running a fairly unsuccessful small business’, and estimated they earned around five grand a year from Field Music.
In the course of 90 minutes, they worked through etiolated Talking Heads-eque funk (they are the only art-rock siblings from Sunderland to have been endorsed by Prince); lush 1970s-styled post-Beatles; jerky post-punk; and gorgeous pastoral melancholy. And, for the record-buying public, that might be the problem. Plenty of people like each of the individual things they do, fewer like all of them and fewer still like them all at the same time. Note, too, that critics hailing music for its cleverness and playfulness seem to be anti-catnip to swathes of the public, who perhaps remember all the times they’ve been duped into buying something clever and playful only to discover it is also tuneless.
But then you hear a song like ‘Disappointed’ — which started with a Steely Danesque noodle around a handful of chords, became a piece of lush pop, then broke down into a capella gospel — and you begin to suspect that the wisdom of crowds might be rather overrated.
At one point, David Brewis asked if the crowd wanted to hear a new song. There was silence. ‘How about an old one?’ Cheers. He addressed the mic, a little crestfallen. ‘That’s what always happens, isn’t it, when you’ve been around for yonks?’ Oh, Britain, this band deserves your support.