Nov 23, 2004

Gig review: Stephen Devine, Night & Day café, November 15th 2004

It’s not unusual for me to walk out of the Night & Day £3-a-bottle the poorer and my ears bleeding like the lifts out of the Shining. It’s normally because I have seen a band so distatefully dire, I want to go home and dance to my food blender.

Fortunately, this didn’t happen until the fourth band tonight. I don’t know their name and I don’t care, as they made Maroon 5 sound like Slayer.

The third band were excellent, however, with a stack of good songs, a rack of exaggerated hair and a nice line in stooping. It’s such a shame they were called Fans Of Kate.

Meanwhile, the first band were called the Likes. They were a macho Coral whose lead singers had voices so low, I swear to this day they were transmitting subliminal orders to buy badges from their badge stand. Yes, a badge stand. What the Likes lacked in personality, they more than made up for with effects pedals. Bless.

No it’s the second band, or rather soloist Stephen Devine, I was here to see tonight. One man and his acoustic guitar couldn’t have been more out of place than if Divine himself had waddled onto the stage. At least Stephen had a sampler as an extra ‘band member’. And yes he really did introduce his ‘band’.

Devine (the non-drag one) opened with Do You Think They Know and yes it does start off sounding a bit like the Levellers, but this is ditched pretty promptly with a sequence of sometimes haphazard chords and an ending of such volume and intensity, you could actually see his tonsils.

Can You Wait was the first track to showcase his layered guitars party trick, sampling and looping as he goes to create a rich acoustic mantra with more nods to Underworld than anyone of the singer-songwriter ilk. The song was spoilt, however, by a plebeian sound engineer with mud in his ears; the crucial bass drum was lost. The song also sounded a little rushed, losing the sense of space that makes Devine’s experimentalism work so well.

Help Me, a desperately quiet anti-anthem of tortured desire is one of those Really Good Tunes that puts a flag on Devine’s song-writing talents and waves it as though the Queen’s in town. “I just want to go hooome with you” he pleads before telling you he’s bleeding and his tragic heart is broken. Talk about needy. The simplicity of this song speaks for itself, and no amount of mud in anyone’s ears could mess this one up.

The wistful vibe was carried into Comfort Me, the title track from his CD. It takes some courage to sing so quietly into the hip void of the Night & Day. It doesn’t work as well as Help Me, and sits the artist firmly in the singer-songwriter vein when I suspect his blood should be pumping down more experimental arteries.

Which brings us to Slow Down, his opus, his epic, his big tool that wrenches conversation into submission. The sound man has nipped to Boots for cotton buds just in time for an ever-so-simple quiet song that loops and builds and layers until it’s funking out like the Chili Peppers and Devine is spinning around on the spot like, er, Kylie Minogue. Here we have a singer possessed by everything Stephen ought to be about: repetition, beauty, simplicity and passion.

This is the sound of someone still looking for completeness in his music, with the result that some songs are better than others, and some songs’ mothers are better than other songs’ mothers. But he found that completeness at the end, leaving us wanting more and not begging for the strange rhythms of our food blenders.

Which is divinity in itself, I suppose.

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