Photos: Bríd O’Donovan
The Crane Lane main venue on Sunday evening around 9pm had a particular living room feel to it – the lights were low, the crowd was sparse, the easy chairs were out and so was the whiskey. It seemed an air of Southern Gothic was indeed taking hold, on this, Day 3, of the 4 day festival. The Hans Chew Duo were just finishing to make way for Keith Wood of Hush Arbors, playing solo tonight.
If it was a living room, it was a noisy one, containing one man and his Fender Jazzmaster, Wood coming across, mind you, as an incongruously shy and unassuming character, aswell as mildly dishevelled complete with check shirt. Speaking of which, the short set started out quite like a mid 70′s Neil Young, with thrashing chords, before changing tack to delicate fingerpicking patterns. The mood for the next half hour swung between a spectral folk style (appropriately, Wood dedicated one song to “my dear friend Jack Rose”) and something more approaching a psych flavour, hinting in the process at a full band effect.
Tying the strands together was Wood’s appealing upper register vocal, plaintiff and beseeching. The highlight for me was a beautiful downtuned piece, fingerpicked to begin but changing to a chunkier texture for the 2nd movement. It stood out from the rest of the set, which did overall leave a slightly plain aftertaste for my liking – very possibly a deliberate move for this solo performance. Having said that, he was well received by the early evening bank holiday crowd. Wood’s intro to one song, however, was a pure case of karmic intervention, as the man from Charlottesville, Virginia asked the Southern Gothic audience – “have you guys ever drank too much whiskey?”
The scene was quite different when I returned at 11pm for the late show (following a most pleasant interlude with Cormac from Boa Morte and his wife in The Hi-B Bar across the street, where the conversation ranged across the state of the music industry, the influence of Pitchfork in Ireland and Peter Broderick, but that’s a story for another day). Arboretum were already in flow and the theatre was full, although with elbow room. A brand of progressive psych rock was immediately apparent and the band had the beards to match – although only the bassplayer ventured anywhere near Josh T. Pearson territory. Without delay, there were amped up folk melodies, featuring meaty chords which made way for numerous creamy solos. There was also resolute and uncompromising drumming, a nimble, airy bass and shimmering organ. It was thrilling and invigorating from the first minute.
Showcasing work from last year’s The Gathering and the recent split record with Hush Arbors, Aureola, the grooves were powerful and heartfelt, and played with a sturdy, stoic demeanour. The set contained frequent hints of Fairport Convention, but also the heavy blues rock of early Steely Dan, and even Creedence Clearwater Revival a little. Their fast and heavy locktight groove update of ‘She moved through the fair’ was one outstanding moment and showed a particular skill at putting a fresh twist on received folk styles. And again later by underpinning a John Martyn song with a DEEP bass drone.
Over the course of two hours, there were polyrhythms, cosmic fizz endings, space rock jams, but amid all the extended workouts and many textures, the arrangements never once showed an ounce of fat. Quite a trick, that. While testing a succession of psych grooves to the limit, the band did not neglect dynamics either, which rose and fell wonderfully and irresistibly, like a throbbing, heaving ocean.
The serious intent of singer Dave Heumann was the other key factor, his shamanic (an overused word, but I’m afraid no other word will do here) presence carrying the tunes far beyond the underground and into an accessible, head-nodding place. A place where even the later-arriving-Crane-Lane-late-night-party-disco crowd were happy and willing to go.
There was even time for a piss-break towards the end. The band re-convened on stage for a conflab, resulting in this hilarious audience poser from Heumann.
“Do you guys want more rock out with the cock out or warm and fuzzy?”
The former got the audience vote (I voted for the latter but I was in no mood to complain) and so Arboretum revved up another ridiculously groovy psych animal to close a thoroughly memorable gig.