I’m not sure what we had planned first, a weekend visiting family and friends in Wales or taking the opportunity to watch the wonderful Cate le Bon in the small town of Bethesda while we were there. Either way, the prospect of seeing the Welsh speaking Le Bon in a Welsh speaking town, off the back of a large American tour, seemed like too big of an opportunity to miss.
On arrival, our small posse quickly fell for the venue, Neuadd Ogwen. It had a great vibe – alternative, but relaxed. Posters informed me that in a couple of weeks, they’re hosting a small three-day festival, headlined by Múm, Gruff Rhys and Aldous Harding, three acts I hold in very high regard. The genuinely lovely staff and acceptable local beer convinced me that this was a decent enough venue. I liked it here!
The support act for the evening, Grimm Grimm, came on to play a handful of songs. A solo singer/guitarist who used loops and echoed effects to make beautiful textured shoegazing psychedelia. Luscious layers of guitar and sampled noise partially buried his understated melodies, reminiscent of the work of Liz Harris’s Grouper. Ethereal opener ‘Tell the Truth’ was the high point here.
I had the privilege of seeing Le Bon in Hebden Bridge earlier in the year, stripped back to just piano, and accompanied by clarinet player Stephen Black (of Group Listening). It was an intimate, overwhelmingly beautiful gig. This time however, Le Bon came armed with a full band. The side standing Le Bon looked intensely into the crowd throughout the short evening. She was quite a presence, rarely allowing herself to smile and break character.
The band opened with the first three tracks from Reward. With the exception of four tracks (three from Crab Day and ‘I Just Wanna Be Good’ from Rockpool) it was a showcase of her new record, which was to be expected.
Although the whole set was captivating and the band played tightly and competently, for my money things started to get really strong at ‘Mother’s Mother’s Magazines’. The leading bassline nods to 80’s post-punk and is so funky on the track that I religiously expect Pere Ubu’s David Thomas to start wailing over it rather than Le Bon when I hear it. This theme continued with the jagged sax and conflicting guitars as they started playfully duelling with the percussion which as an outro makes up a good half of the song. It was a joy to watch live. The experimental, angular art punk vibes continued in ‘Magnificent Gestures’ and, by this time, the gig was in full swing.
The issues with Le Bon’s set wasn’t the songs she and her bandmates played. If anything, it was the feeling that it was somewhat rushed and impersonal. Ever felt that the gig you’re at is just another stop on the factory line for the artist? Interaction was almost non-existent. It’s not that one would necessarily ask for Le Bon to spend most of her stage time whimsically telling stories rather than actually singing her songs (a performance model chosen by follow welsh singer Gruff Rhys who often does little else, although in that case it is more than welcomed due to his wonderful talent in doing so) . It is just that it is sometimes important for a connection to be made.
Crab Day’s ‘What’s Not Mine’ is perfect as a closing song with its lengthy outro and upbeat pounding rhythm, leaving the audience in perfect spirits for encore. The said encore unfortunately lasted just one song, ‘Meet the Man’, bringing the entirety of the concerts clock count to an hour. Le Bon exited the stage while members of the band continued to play the finale of their pieces, which was a fairly cool exit but taking in to account the short concert time, you were left wondering whether Le Bon experienced some difficulties, prompting an abrupt ending. Despite some of these issues, Le Bon was able to masterfully deliver her beautiful, melancholy, and complex songs with feeling and skill, and the songs were ultimately enough.
Words by Mike Hull