Blaine Harrison and co drop by to play La Fléche D’or with their old Paris friends Oh Othello in front of our Savannah Whaley
Before the headliners took to the stage, Oh Othello charmed the crowd with their unpretentious, lyrical folk and slightly pretentious matching turtle-neck jumpers… but that pretention was self-avowed and the uniforms were kind of charming, as were their gentle songs often reminiscent of Paris (which had been their home when they formed). ‘Wounded Knee’ stood out for me, as Thos Henley and George Jephson’s voices lilted around each other’s and through the crowd.
At “la flèche d’or” for the wonderful “oh othello” and the “mystery jets“… Yepa !
The excitement was pretty palpable in the minutes before the night’s main act came onstage, as the room filled up and the air got progressively smokier. To write and record most of their latest album ‘Radlands’ the Mystery Jets upped and left their home shores to set up camp in Austin, Texas – something which was hard to forget during their live set, and not just due to the trip’s influence on their sound. Before their entrance the stage was left dark and smoke-filled as a deep American voice and some bluesy slide-guitar filtered out into the venue. The feeling that we were all in fact hanging out in a Texan saloon bar only increased as the band came out onto the stage clad in tasselled suede jackets and vintage cowboy shirts.
The atmosphere was intense as the first few notes of ‘Someone Purer’ started up; Blaine Harrison’s haunting vocals cutting through the crowd and making for a dramatic first impression, which built up into a crescendo of cymbals and drums and already had the audience half-singing half-shouting along to the chorus.
This set filled the space of La Fléche d’Or and stretched out beyond it; they’d amped up the reverb and distortion as end of one song trailed into the beginning of the next. It was easy to imagine them echoing out across the dusty plains of the deep south. ‘Flash a Hungry Smile’ ended in a dreamy psychedelic haze of sound; Austin’s wide open spaces clearly permeate every aspect of the new record and the result is for the most part fantastic.
Unfortunately ‘Serotonin’ didn’t work nearly as well, having none of that uplifting high that characterises the song on the record. The tone shifted as ‘Greatest Hits’ merged into the beginning of ‘The Hale Bop’, linked by a beautiful cross-over of harmonies where Harrison’s wavering voice became the softer accompaniment to William Rees’s gruff vocals in perhaps the most surprising song on Radlands. It seems incongruous for this British indie band to have produced a song whose chorus is more like some sort of 80s disco funk, with Rees’s voice sounding even more gravelly live as ‘One day I’m gonna end your pain/ I’ll be your drug, your new cocaine’ echoed around the venue while Harrison’s high-pitched harmonies lingered just a second behind him.
Predictably, however, it was ‘Young Love’ which finally got everyone moving after Harrison , told us that ‘nous allons une chanson pour danser’. Most of us acquiesced. Harrison charmed the crowd with his snatches of French, which were said with a strong English accent and gave him the air of a sweet schoolboy or something – albeit a schoolboy with a penchant for suede and massive hair. Rees, on the other hand, held back until the end of the set when he sort of blurted out ‘Voulez-vous un encore?’ with a wry smile.
‘Flakes’ got the biggest reaction, as everyone sung/howled along to the wordless chorus. This was a moment in which you could feel the mutual band-audience appreciation, as the group smiled out at the crowd they’d evidently wooed with this ‘heartbreak song’ as Harrison described it.
‘Radlands’ is at times punctuated by a moody intensity (that sits alongside the disco funk, of course..) which was transferred into their live show by the atmospheric and occasionally pretty dramatic light show. They’d clearly thought about more than just their cowboy shirts when it came to the visual effect. ‘You Had Me at Hello’ ended in a striking freeze-frame, as a bright white light shone into the crowd from the back of the stage, while the band had turned their backs on us, Harrison with his guitar raised up to his left, head dropped, with all those tassels silhouetted against the light. Alright, it was perhaps a bit contrived but it did look fucking cool.
After the cluster of songs from Twenty One and Serotonin they returned to the moody haze in which they had started the set, with Harrison asking the sound guy to ‘lower the vocals’ as ‘I’m gonna really scream for this one’ (this one being ‘Lost in Austin’), and scream he did. Here were his distinctive vocals at their best, the song starting off with a slightly distorted guitar riff and Harrison, his voice sweetly unassuming, asking ‘Is there a world more lonely than ours/ Out there beyond the stars’ and building up layer by layer into the complete release of his yelling the chorus into the mic. He sung with a sense of abandon which was infectious and gave the lines, ‘Take me to the edge, I’m not scared… If we fall off, it doesn’t matter, we’ll do it all again’ a recklessness and poignancy that was pretty captivating. Just as it is in the album, this song was the dramatic peak of the set, which was quickly sobered by ‘Luminescence’, a somewhat low-key choice of finale which seemed a bit anti-climactic.
The build up to the encore started almost as soon as they’d left the stage. The opening few seconds of ‘Alice Springs’ looped over a recording of a man’s voice saying something unintelligible as the lights came up and the band reappeared. The tension was broken when they cut the recorded track and blasted out Half in Love with Elizabeth’, ‘Two Doors Down’ and ‘Alice Springs’. It was a wise, if safe, choice of finale, as they ended the gig on a familiar high, as opposed to the more reflective atmosphere that lingered after their first exit.
Despite the mixed critical reactions to ‘Radlands’, the material works fantastically live, and their evident enjoyment whilst performing suggests that Texas and the making of this album has been a positive experience despite its stormy beginnings, with Kai Fish leaving the band. Although for me, they will always be a quintessentially British band, it seems that the boys from Eel Pie Island can do country /Americana/ funk and make it, for the most part, sound their own – even if ‘their own’ means not sounding that American at all.