So, in summary: if you ever get the chance to see this combination of bands, go. If you get the chance to see them separately, go as well. They will blow your mind.
I don’t go out very often. I’m more of a stay at home girl. I like sitting down, working, drinking coffee, reading, writing, singing, trying to find a tune on the keyboard… occasionally you’ll find me sitting by the sea. But that’s about as far outside as I usually get. I’m not a fan of crowds, clubs, loud noises, alcohol or rowdy people. So it takes a pretty awesome line-up to get me off my sofa and across town to a gig.
Last night promised that line-up. Bitter Ruin plus Brian Viglione. What could possibly be better? The other names on the website were Sxip Shirey, who I’d heard about but whose music I’d never listened to, and Elyas Khan, who I’d never even heard of. But I thought, well, why not? It’s been at least a year since I went to a gig, I’m due a little time outside of my living room. Off I went.
Of course I went alone. I find it easier to lose myself in the music that way. Being me, I got there half an hour early and stood propping up the bar with my lemonade for a while before they opened the doors. You know what, though? It was worth it, because I spent the entire gig front & centre, totally in on all the action.
So. Bitter Ruin got up first. They were fucking awesome. They opened with Chewing Gum, a song close to my heart:
(none of these videos are actually of them last night, but you get the idea)
They carried on with a few more, and then they said they were going to do a new one. Georgia explained that this one didn’t really work without drums, so… lo and behold, they got a drummer on stage, and it was only Brian Fucking Viglione! OHMYGOD. I swear I nearly died of pleasure just at the thought of this partnership. And then they started to play.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret now. It’s well-known that I’m not a very emotional person. I’ve even been accused of being a robot from time to time. The other day, one of my colleagues turned to me and said “When are we going to see your softer side?” and everyone around him – me included – fell about laughing. But there is one thing that can change that. One thing that somehow makes me open myself up to my feelings. That thing is really, really good drumming. Don’t ask me why. I have no idea. It just happens. Give me an excellent drummer and I will give you a softer me who actually has feelings almost like a normal human being.
So. Back to Brian. Georgia and Ben started singing. Ben was playing guitar. It was a beautiful Wild West number. And then Ben mouthed “one, two, three, four”, and Brian hit the drums and blew my mind. Honestly. He ripped me open with his drumsticks and my soul spilled onto the stage. It was awe-inspiring. At the end of the song, I couldn’t even whoop over the lump in my throat. Yes, me. Robotic, unemotional me. That man does more than just drum. He gets in tune with the rhythm of the universe and hits that motherfucker until it belongs to him.
Needless to say, after that I was feeling a bit raw. Stunned. Amazed. And then Georgia said they were going to do A Brand New Me. Without Brian this time. I was happy, because this is one of my favourite songs of hers. You know when you listen to an album, and there are one or two tracks that just resonate really deeply with your own life, and you think, I wish I’d written that? Yeah.
So, we were all sitting on the floor. Georgia picked up her mike, readied herself for singing, and then said “You know what? I’m going to come and sit in the audience.” Like I said, I was front and centre, and she only CAME AND SAT RIGHT NEXT TO ME. Just when I thought the night couldn’t get any better, when I was so raw from listening to Brian beat the living shit out of the drums while Ben & Georgia slayed one of the most amazing songs I’d ever heard, Georgia Fucking Train came and sat next to me and sang a song that’s really close to my heart (oh yes, dear doubters, I have one). She performed the shit out of it, too. Who’d have thought someone could come and sit in a teeny cramped space in between audience members and still make everyone feel like they were watching her on stage? The girl is a legend. Anyway, the song was beautiful as always, haunting and emotional and the perfect follow-up to the song with Brian. What’s that? You don’t know the song? Shame on you. Here it is:
It was intense. She finished (to rounds of enthusiastic applause), got back up on stage, and said “In complete contrast, this next song is about… oh, it’s just about a dickhead.” We all laughed. Outrageous was fantastic, a dedication to all the dickheads in our lives. I think it’s one of the most vocally amazing songs she conquers, though once I’d heard the song with Brian (at some point I’ll find out its actual name), that one quickly took first position.
And so Bitter Ruin finished their set, having opened the floodgates and let me ride the waves. They got off stage, and the audience screamed at them to come back, so back they came. For one more song, a beautiful rendition of Beware.
I stayed sitting on the floor while Gentlemen & Assassins set up.
Holy fucking crap, guys. I never thought it was possible to get three people who are so talented, so masterful, so completely fucking awesome on the same stage. Obviously we’ve already spoken about Brian Viglione and his amazingness on drums. Couple that with Sxip Shirey and Elyas Khan, and you’re onto a winner.
Sxip is fantastic. He plays things that aren’t instruments with a passion that borders on orgasmic. Actually, I’m pretty sure that at some points during last night’s show it might have crossed that border. I have never seen someone master the art of a mixing bowl and a marble before, but you know what? I’d pay really good money to see this guy do it again. Which reminds me of two points (argh, dammit, why am I not one of those people whose brain works in a nice logical linear fashion?)
1. The gig was only £8. EIGHT FUCKING QUID. I’d have paid twenty easily. Thirty, perhaps.
2. The whole thing reminded me of a religious experience. More on that later.
Anyway, Sxip. Fucking master of musicality. I get the feeling you could walk down the street with him and he’d suddenly start playing the leaves, the walls, bringing the graffiti to life… the man is a magician. He gained a die-hard fan last night.
Elyas Khan I’d never even heard of, but man he was good. Reminiscent of Eugene from Gogol Bordello, which coming from a Gypsy girl is one hell of a compliment. He was so intuitively musical, so into his lyrics, so able to switch suddenly from one part of the song to the next. It felt like the tunes were being created around him. There is always a comparison that can be made between musicians and other artists, but watching this guy create the stage (because he didn’t just own it, he fucking made it) was like watching a master artist at work. You could just see him start by sketching the outline and then fill it with beautiful colours, the dashes getting more and more wild as the song went on, until finally, the climax. What a dude.
Back to the religious experience thing. Not that I’ve ever had one. Or not brought on by religion, anyway. Gentlemen & Assassins when on stage have the ability to transport you to a plane of consciousness you might not have realised existed. It’s like a huge mess of instruments and bike bells and marbles and mixing bowls and penny whistles and paper clips and pieces of wood, all coming together to create something sublime.
They finished up with Georgia on stage with them, singing her heart out. By this point I was so open, so raw, that I could barely process the things that were making the music happen. I was just listening, partaking, watching this beautiful thing take shape. And then it was over.
I don’t stick around after gigs. Inevitably people end up speaking to me, often they’re drunk, always they’re rowdy, and it’s not really my scene. You know, humans. Anyway, I disappeared as quickly and quietly as I could, after smiling my appreciation at Sxip across the room, and I stepped outside into the relative quiet of the streets of Hove. I turned right towards the main road, then thought, you know what would make an amazing evening complete? Some time by the sea. So to the sea I went.
I sat in front of the waves and sung at them. I’ve been doing this from time to time since I first moved back to the sea when I was sixteen. I find it calming and therapeutic. Yesterday I just found it fitting.
Tonight I went down to a place by the sea
Where the floor was hard and the chairs were cold
I stood front and centre and swayed to the beat
And the music healed my soul
I sung that, over and over, allowing myself to feel. I watched the waves. I sung with them rather than over them, keeping my crescendos in line with their crashes, my beats in line with their rhythm. And then I sung through the album I’ve written but not recorded yet, sitting on a groyne facing the sea. It was a beautiful end to an overwhelming evening. It was interesting to see which tracks I wanted to sing to the ocean and which ones I felt weren’t good enough. If I’m taking that as my benchmark, the album when I eventually get around to putting something down on recording equipment will be quite different from the one I’d imagined. I think I might need some sea noises in there too.
Eventually I came to the end of the songs, and I stood up and walked slowly along the beach towards home. I sung other songs, not my own; starting with Autumn Leaves and continuing through gradually more operatic tunes; Nella Fantasia, Aranjuez. By the time I hit Brighton Pier I’d done a sort of acoustic version of Ampersand (not that I had an instrument, but I can imagine it working that way), a couple of takes of A Brand New Me and was finishing up with Hurt when I saw over the road the bright lights of a chip shop. I wandered over, bought myself a bag of them and plonked down on a bench opposite the sea, watching the waves from a distance this time but still feeling a connection.
I threw the paper away and wandered towards home, past all the drunken people spilling out of the clubs (and, for the most part, out of their clothes) and arrived back at some late-ish hour, at which point I lay in bed and fell asleep unusually quickly.