Live (Isaac Howlett / Oliver Pigott / Lailaland)
‘All the songs are from the soul’. Happily, they’re quite good as well. Laila Cohen, aka Lailaland, delivers straight-talking jazzy soul Nina Simone would recognise. The lyrics are rarely sophisticated or complex – but they are direct and accessible, neat shots of Laila’s state of mind. She can be sexy or confrontational, is always warm and the classical guitar picking of Clark Berger frames her confessions and expostulations perfectly. Being so intimate a performer, she’s ideal for the glorified but atmospheric shoebox of a venue too.
Oliver Pigott has presence. He has passion. In fact, he physically vibrates with the passion that’s in him, like a mini-Springsteen with all dials set to ‘gritty’. Too gritty; it’s all foot-stomping, thumpy guitar strumming to convey fervour, when something a bit tender would be a nice surprise occasionally. He’s good, but not that good – there’s a guy in the States called Michael McDermott (to name just one) who does this better and with more variety. And what, really, was the point of the Britney cover? (‘Baby One More Time’, of course – it was hardly the last word in irony when Travis covered it, and that was three Coldplay albums ago.)
Now Isaac Howlett really is astonishingly good. He writes songs awash with goosebumps, evoking love and London in a few phrases like a great poet or novelist. In a heart’s cry of a song like ‘Love is a Ghost’, you can feel the Finsbury rain in your face and the tube train’s rattle. The acoustic ballads are immediate and mystical. The anthems are Joshua Tree-size; his voice could cross continents. Here’s a true original, a kindred spirit to Mike Scott, William Blake, and Iain Sinclair, and just as singular as that sounds.
From the first mind-bending chord of ‘Stucklike’, Maxfield owns the room. They’re more than just accomplished musicians and this is more than just funk, though that is the template for their sound. The groovy stuff is mixed with big riffs and trippy effects, while Valerie commands this little space in style, rapping with gusto and singing wonderfully. Live, their songs move your ass, fill up your head and bring a smile to your chops, and you can’t ask for more than that, now can you?
Written by McLaughlin on