Saturday, February 10, 2007

Truax is Tops

It was Acoustica at the Gloucester Guildhall last night, the first time I’ve attended since last October when Jim Moray brought his challenging take on the folk genre to the intimate local venue. Three acts were appearing last night. The Wraiths were on first. A male/female duo from Bristol, they set old poems to music. I rather liked them. The sounds were angular and quirky and the two voices combined attractively. The fellow, name of Jon, had a mean Wilko Johnsonesque stare and an almost menacing, post-punk ambience, but his harmonies and backing vocals conveyed a charming pop sensitivity. The gal was called Mog and she sang sweetly. I approved.

Thomas Truax (pictured) was the second act although he was billed as the headline performer. Having seen the man at Cheltenham’s Literature Festival last year, I was keen to witness his singular and eccentric ways again. How to describe Truax briefly and in a way that does him justice? He hails from an imaginary American town, Wowtown, and sings witty and unconventional songs about his offbeat world. He accompanies himself on an array of innovative instruments including Sister Spinster, a drum machine made from bike wheels and cutlery, the mighty Hornicator, an effects-laden gramophone horn and the Stringaling, a tumble drier pipe with all kinds of buzzers and bells tagged onto it. He howls a lot and cascades between ‘endearing’ and ‘Gothic’ at will. He rhymes ‘ectoplasm’ with ‘spasm’ and makes a lyric about a deranged entomologist hunting down a talking two foot butterfly seem poignant and believable. His world is strange and bewitching and I salute him.

The final act was Chantelle Pike. Oh dear. I am not sure who was more dreadful, Pike or Jane Taylor, another ‘sensitive singer-songwriter’ I endured at Acoustica last April. Like Taylor, Pike combined a self-assurance and confidence that was wholly at odds with a dismal lack of tunes, wit or anything resembling a moving or challenging lyric. I sat through each song thinking, ‘Perhaps the next one will reward my patience with something of merit’ but I was disappointed again and again. There was a number alluding to knitting that may have been a metaphor for something profound. Or maybe it was about knitting. She sang about a cow which, again, may have meant something astonishing but I suspect may just have been about a cow. Where Truax and The Wraiths challenged me and made me think, this performer sadly bored and dismayed me with really insipid and humdrum offerings. They produced art; she did not. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by a host of stunning acoustic artists (Newsom, Stevens, Regan, Oldham, Stephenson, Hewerdine) I’ve encountered either live or via compact disc or MP3 technology in the past year or so? Her drummer wore interestingly hued - orange, as you're askin' - trousers though, so all was not lost.

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