Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Live: Devastations and Josh T Pearson - London

Monto at The Water Rats, London
Tuesday 18 September 2007

Josh T Pearson may be just one man, but live he sounds like a band. The ex-Lift To Experience frontman cuts a startling figure - an enormous beard appearing below the brim of his hat. His footstomp is a match for any kick drum and somehow that single acoustic guitar sounds like a three-man assault. His voice can jump from a barely audible whisper to a deafening howl, in a mesmerising performance where he fights genuine battles between angels and demons. The world he creates is as beautiful as it is horrifying. Love has torn him apart, but something special is rising from the ruins. He sends messages out from his own private hell; his songs are long, and moving. That’s Just The Way That Life Goes is a clear highlight. He asks if he has time for another song – everyone cheers in agreement. He responds “This ain’t a democracy”, but finds time to close his set with The Devil’s On The Run, which sees even the most cynical lose their cool and sing along.

Devastations are now back to the core three members; “three is the magic number – for us” drummer Hugo tells me before the show. With many songs having a strong keyboard basis, it’s going to be interesting to see how they achieve their sound with guitar, bass and drums. As with their shows earlier this year, Conrad no longer takes centre stage, but his mane tossing and depreciating humour still make him a magnetic figure on stage. As a three piece, the individual personalities shine more, and somehow they feel more like a band.

They open with early favourite We Will Never Drink Again but the vocals don’t mesh as they should. In fact, it’s their sound mix that lets them down tonight. Tom’s songs probably suffer the most – both The Pest and Black Ice rely on their sequencers, but they’re loud and distorted, taking the subtle nuances of the songs with them. In fact it’s not until Mistakes that things really bed down. Then Conrad’s vocals excel on The Saddest Sound and they end they set with an apocalyptic Rosa.

It’s by no means a bad show, but perhaps lacking something of the magic that makes Yes, U such a special record. Last October, at the Camden Barfly, Conrad was literally dripping blood onto his fretboard. While tonight’s show was lacking that intensity it did show a band prepared to take risks and try new things. They may fall flat on their collective face, but you can’t help but admire their faith. There were moments of brilliance tonight. Once they iron these bugs out, they’ll be truly dangerous. I can’t wait to see them again in November

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review appeared in Inpress, Melbourne, on 26 September 2007