Published on March 3rd, 2013 | by Richard Warrell0
Cosmo Jarvis and Midnight Bonfires @ The Rainbow, Birmingham (28/02/2013)
It is always nice to see bands at the Rainbow as the venue does not frequently have bands to my taste playing at it but has a rather special charm to it. The shape and style of the place is just a little bit quirky and different, although drinks prices are steep (£3.90 for a pint of Stella is a bit high!). The premium price for drinks is worth it for the perfect sound the venue has, though, considering the gigs here are rarely too expensive.
The first act we caught at this show was Midnight Bonfires. An indie rock band with what looked like a mandolin, the band are about as twee as you can get and rely very heavily on borrowing ideas from other bands. Mumford & Sons are the hottest thing in mainstream rock this side of the Atlantic, while North America’s seen Foster the People making big waves (they’re a much bigger name there than here, believe me), and you can see the influence of both here, from the folky mandolin’s presence to the vocalist’s soft, airy-fairy tone. I do like both bands but here these features’ insertion into the band sounds a little less natural than it does in the acts the ideas are sourced from.
Bands have always taken influence from the past. Heck, Led Zeppelin stole from the blues to such a degree they got taken to court by some of the original artists. But there’s a huge difference between putting your own spin on something and just plain ripping it off. With Midnight Bonfires, it was all too easy to spot which artists which riffs were taking influence from, without the distinctive twist that allows a talent like Noel Gallagher to blatantly steal riffs yet still come across as an accomplished songwriter. The mandolin did not really change the sound of the band an awful lot despite expectations.
I think I am just annoyed about the whiney vocals, really. I loathe “white guy with acoustic guitar” vocals at the best of times as they just make a singer look a little wimpy and pathetic as well as making words impossible to understand, but this was particularly poor. They were shrill, whiney and really quite a distraction. In the band’s defence however they were solid musicians, especially the very proficient rhythm section. Notes were hit correctly and the band gelled very well as a unit. There were a couple of songs where the mandolin’s presence did actually add something special, too. The band didn’t quite have the swagger of rock stars, but performed with confidence. With a shift in the vocal style used they could really be very entertaining.
Cosmo Jarvis excelled himself at this show. In better health than the last time I saw him, he ran through an array of hits and brand new songs both of which were lapped up by the audience. I always give full-disclosure in my articles about Cosmo and acknowledge that we are old friends as it would be unfair on readers to hide this, but damn was I proud of him tonight. Cosmo has surrounded himself in a powerful backing band - including his younger brother, Fletcher who plays drums on a handful of tracks – who are significant additions to the show themselves, making themselves very much heard. Fletcher and bassist Harry Mackaill were both particularly impressive, not letting their positions as backing musicians lead them to give a lazy performance at all.
In our conversations before the gig – which will be published in an article on here shortly – Cosmo detailed to me how he has been pushing his music in an edgier, more aggressive, punk-influenced direction and writings songs more suited to a band setting than being performed on his own with an acoustic guitar. This was evident in the show both in the performances of older songs and the style in which newer ones had been written but there was still a significant portion of the set dedicated to Cosmo’s better known pop rock style, including some of the newer songs. It proved a healthy balance. Renditions of “She Doesn’t Mind” and big-hit “Gay Pirates” proved the two highlights of the night. It is a testament to his audience’s loyalty and Cosmo’s own writing prowess that the audience was as enthralled by his new songs as they were by the old ones – all too often when a band plays a new song you can sense the audience’s shoulders sagging a little, but this was not the case here.
Cosmo keeps his stage banter pretty minimal at gigs, letting the music do the talking for him. Most songs are introduced either with “this is a song” or “this is a new song” and little else. This is perhaps what is keeping him from ascending to the next step on the career ladder where he belongs. As charming and refreshing as it is to see a musician so unpretentious and keen to focus their show on music, without any of the rockstar bullshit that normally happens, there’s a reason why rock stars like Steven Tyler get as big as they do. As constant entertainers, there isn’t a moment in a show when they aren’t wowing the crowd. Subliminally, too, artists with big, louder than life personas manage to trick audiences into thinking if they buy an artist’s merch and CDs they are somehow buying into the persona and lifestyle of the artist too. Musicians do sometimes cross over to mainstream audiences on the strength of their music alone however – we have to hope Cosmo can be among that lucky few.
Fortunately for Cosmo’s current fanbase, this aberration from the typical professional musician persona is really quite a pleasure. Without LSD (Lead Singer Disease, an affliction of arrogance) to concern himself with, Cosmo manages to squeeze a lot of songs into his set and rarely pauses for more than a few seconds between numbers – even when changing drummers around. Keeping up the pace so successfully stopped the show from ever dragging - an essential feature of a gig venue where the bar is next door, as on no occasion did I see anyone vacate the room during Cosmo’s set to get drinks, an impressive feat given how hot the room was.
After the show Cosmo, dripping with sweat, stuck around for hugs, handshakes and photographs with his fans much to their delight. A quick skim of Twitter in the aftermath of the gig confirmed that all were incredibly satisfied with the experience.
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