Review by Janne Oinonen
It’s hard not to avoid certain preconceptions when the evening’s star turn straps on a banjo. However, Kate Stables – AKA This Is The Kit – is hardly constrained by folk traditions.
Tonight’s set often builds on the active interest in rhythm that powered This Is The Kit’s most recent album, last year’s excellent Moonshine Freeze, which marked Stables’s debut for celebrated indie label Rough Trade. The most striking selections could be described as folk-funk, propelled forward by robust grooves, chants and horn stabs that are more in tune with the hypnotic intent of dance music than the solemn introspection of a solo acoustic singer-songwriter.
Between songs, Stables is full of cheer to the point where the Winchester-born, Paris-based songwriter expresses concern that her heartfelt expressions of gratitude for the audience’s size and enthusiasm will come across as fake as a slick stage-trained American megastar. With a five-piece band (starring Manchester-based songwriter Rozi Plain on bass and backing vocals and the superb quicksilver guitar licks of Neil Smith) this potent and versatile, and tunes of this quality (not to mention a sold-out, appreciative Brudenell, equipped with the necessary restraint to keep still when the decibels drop to minimal for solo selections), Stables certainly has a fair deal to smile about.
Whilst these songs about, amongst other things, taste of blood in the mouth, demon eyes and chanted hexes are rooted in folk-orientated songwriting, Stables arranges her ingredients in an idiosyncratic, unmistakably contemporary manner slightly reminiscent of, say, The Weather Station or Brigid Mae Power. The air of frequent foreboding and hazily defined gloom – in compelling contrast with both Stables’s crystal-clear voice and the good cheer emitting from the stage – that permeates much of the proceedings helps explain what attracted multi-instrumentalist Aaron Dressner (who plays on the new album and produced its 2015 predecessor Bashed Out) of The National to This Is The Kit.
The gnomic turns of phrase in many of the tunes makes the directness of the beautifully bruised Bullet Proof – the set’s highlight, alongside a horn-enriched take on the current album’s propulsive title track – all the more striking. Although best described as a ballad, even this performance is rooted in the steady heartbeat of a skeletal groove. In fact, the only reservation about tonight’s superb performance is that the band is maybe being kept at too short a leash. If Stables and co. allowed the grooves to sprawl and bloom freely in the style of Jane Weaver (whose roots are also in acoustic music), This Is The Kit could prove truly unstoppable.