Soulsavers released their new album, It's Not How Far You Fall It's The Way You Land, in the UK earlier in the year, and it found its way to local release via Columbia Records in October. Plans to play some US shows with Jesus & Mary Chain got switched out instead for a short run of their own headlining shows, and quite frankly my disappointment quickly turned into excited impatience for their arrival to our fair shores. I will admit right now that this album has been on high rotation in my car for months now, and cemented itself into my Top 10 albums of 2007 for it's sheer majesty, it's melancholic twists and turns and deeply evocative nature. So this show, with it's one-time only line-up of musicians and vocalists, became one of my most-anticipated of the year.
I unfortunately arrived late and missed Spain's opening set, which appeared to have the crowd well-primed for what was to follow. As song craftsman/programming mastermind, Rich Machin, popped in and out from behind a big rack of production toys and effects he seemed more than happy to let this hand-picked array of fine musicians let loose on his songs, bring them to life and to volumes way beyond those a studio might provide. It sounded like they'd paid of the sound guy to kill his compressors so as to let the natural dynamics unleash onto an unsuspecting audience, and we all raised up in prayer. I doth Testify!
The opening lines of "Ask The Dust" instrumental started looping - all evocative, dark and moody like a long lost cousin of Massive Attack's Blue Lines-era - as the band hit the stage in darkness, plugged in, checked pedals, then kicked in with a huge and powerful wall of sound in the most unholiest of manners, it really was like the volume spontaneously got turned up to 11. Glory Be!
"Ghosts Of You And Me" ensued with it's throbbing bassline anchoring proceedings (courtesy of Matt Stravick) and embracing the agitated and squealing guitars, only to greet the mystical figure of Mark Lanegan as he entered stage right, stepped up to the mic, opened his mouth, and allowed free rein to his husky, haunting, and sexy as hell voice to start permeating our beings. Praise the Lord!
Gospel singers Carmen Short and Wendi Rose (London Community Gospel Choir) the joined the band onstage as they kept the musical sermon rolling through the majority of songs from the album, a pageant of riches, plus a rocking version Credence Clearwater Revival's "Effigy" provided quite the paean. "Paper Money" saw Lanegan come to life with a sordid and sultry tale of "heaven so far away" torn between pleas ("don't you ever leave me baby"), passions ("cherry on your lips") and provocations ("tell me baby, who's your daddy?") replete with girls wailing and Mark howling precipitously into the microphone. The band flowed effortlessly through the set, the intertwining guitars interspersed with slide, e-bow drones, backed by unrelenting drum rhythms, and essentially we just bore witness to great players creating soundscapes and imagery that might have belonged to the V.U if this were The Factory and it was 1967. And if Leonard Cohen had gate-crashed.
The stage remained dimly lit, with occasional flourishes of purple and blue and red, which only increased the intimacy of the occasion as we gazed at the apparitions before us and struggled with the other-worldly aspects of their musical horizons, where others dare to tread. Another of the instrumentals incorporated the girls reprising "Some Velvet Morning" lyrics over the outro ("Some velvet mornin' when I'm straight. I'm gonna open up your gate. And maybe tell you 'bout Phaedra" - Lee Hazelwood) and the band had me all but kneeling at their altar for the Josh Haden-penned chant of "Spiritual". Seriously. "Jesus, oh Jesus I dont' want to die alone."
"Kingdoms of Rain" and "Jesus Of Nothing" did justice to their recorded versions resplendent with layered vocals echoing, glimpses of sitars, shuddering guitars and primordial beats. Like most of the set the songs crescendoed like waves crashing against the white cliffs of Dover before recoiling and rescinding to the quietest of moments and outroing with Lanegan's sole vocal left behind all stark and naked and glorious. Hallelujah!
As the band left the stage we were safe in the knowledge that they'd be back for an encore - if only for "Revival" - which lived up to it's name in re-energizing us all for our trip back out into the cold night to make our way home in paean... The perfect touch to ending the show however was letting the girls step forward for an amazing hymnlike rendition of "Midnight Special" (another nod to CCR) in requisite gospel glory. It was all I could do to restrain myself from jumping on stage to join them in the celebration.