Monday, November 06, 2006

Perfect Ten

concert review: The Beautiful South, Birds Of Wales @ Phoenix Concert Theatre(Toronto, Ontario), November 1, 2006

The Beautiful South @ Phoenix: photo by Michael Ligon

I'd always been more of a fan of The Housemartins than it's offshoot The Beautiful South. The Housemartins wrote pop songs about pop and politics that always maintained a youthful exhuberance in it's sound. I was in highschool when The Housemartins were around and were one of my favourite bands of those years. Maybe I was't ready for The Housemartins to end nor for the more mature sound provided by The Beautiful South. Really, while The Beautiful South had it's share of sublime pure pop moments, by the end of their 3rd album I'd lost interest. It's with an ounce of regret I'd wish I'd kept up with The Beautiful South all these years. At their show at the Phoenix this past Wednesday they performed a greatest-hits set that spanned most of their catalogue, displaying their mature, smart songwriting. I wasn't even disappointed that they didn't resurrect any Housemartins tunes during the show. The Beautiful South have been fairly prolific throughout the last 15 years and are apparently big stars in their native UK. It's a shame they never caught on in North America. But you've never have known it given the thunderous response to the band as they took the stage at the Phoenix last Wednesday.

Opening the show were locals Birds Of Wales. I was all prepared to hate their set upon hearing them play as I entered the Phoenix - middle of the road, pop-rock that just did not appeal to me at all. However, they redeemed themselves which at least several mildly interesting tracks later on in their set, pulling off some energetic power-pop, a tune that bordered on alt-country, and as well as some atmospheric guitar arrangements. Check 'em out for yourself, although you'll probably have to wait a little because the vocalist mentioned the band would soon be going to the UK.

The Beautiful South performed a fabulous set all around and it was as much great for the music as for its enthusiastic reception from the audience. The crowd was downright euphoric. The vibrant pop melodies, confident and mature, centered around the vocals of the group's three vocalists, Paul Heaton and his distinct nasal vocals, Dave Hemingway's smooth as butter vocals that strived for a crooner-esque tone, and Alison Wheeler's soulful, feminine vocals that hit all the right spots. Paul, the most recognizable vocals of the bunch, was great on tracks like "Old Red Eyes Is Back", while Dave pulled out a great vocal performance on "36D". Alison Wheeler particularly shined on "Don't Marry Her" while her vocal turns on the awesome "A Little Time" drew an enrapturous response from the audience. The set list drew heavily from the older material[a whopping 5 songs from their debut "Welcome To The Beautiful South" alone], choosing to include much of their more well-known tracks and ignoring some of their later albums all together. This was fine by me since I was much more familiar with the earlier material anyway. The band do have a new album to promote called "Superbi" and the band performed several tracks from the album. With eleven people in total on stage, the music was a awesome mixture of spright guitar work, keyboard melodies and percussive elements(yay to the bongos!) with at times, the soulful one-two punch of the three-person horn section which was in tow.

There was quite a loyal audience at hand and older than most shows I've gone too recently. I'm in my thirties so I usually feel a little old when I go to certain shows, but damn if I wasn't near the lower end of the age spectrum at The Beautiful South's show cause I'd estimate the average age was around mid-to-late thirties. There were people singing along to almost every note and the crowd didn't leave the band hanging when say, Paul Heaton pointed the mic to the audience to sing a line or two of lyrics. Paul was the most animated of the bunch, busting some funky dance moves to the delight of the crowd. It was also great to see towards the end, the horn section step out to the front of the stage as the atmosphere grew more festive. Paul and Dave started out the night wearing caps but later shed those to reveal their boy-ish, if a little greyer, hair cuts. Paul and Dave are a little older, a little wiser, but still look pretty much as I remembered them back in highschool. So yes, maybe the show was a little bit of nostalgia trip. I'd never figured I'd enjoy the show this much and that's a really testament to the band. Back in the early 90's, I thought they were a little too mature sounding and I hadn't gotten over the demise of The Housemartins. I'd like to think I've matured since then, and The Beautiful South are just such a perfect fit now.

Here are my photos.

Here is a photo of a setlist which I got.

More photos from other people, here and here(this person appears to have met the band after the show).

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