The third night of Brad‘s European tour last month saw them play in front of a full O2 venue in a wintry Islington.
Frustratingly I missed the first support act, Dan Glendenning. Back in the 1990s he was the lead singer of Headswim, a band who released two fine albums in the grungy, trippy Flood and the more introspective and oft-melancholic Despite Yourself. I could wax lyrical about Headswim for quite a while, but will spare you the verbiage (maybe another post one day); hopefully there’ll be another chance to see Glendenning live again.
A few years back, I saw thrash survivors Testament \m/ at the same venue; hirsute singer Chuck Billy orchestrated a full-on moshpit that energetically bounced, swirled and skidded round on a beer-soaked floor to some fast and furious riffage. Brad wasn’t quite the same. Although busy, we ambled to the front and occupied a prime spot centre stage, just in time for the next band.
Second support act New Killer Shoes were solid and competent musicians playing lively and fairly predictable modern indie. I suspect they were originally a heavier band, and wasn’t quite sure of their identity musically; their sound and songwriting skills perhaps still need some development.
Brad were straight into their gentle groove with, ‘Buttercup’, ‘Good News’ and ‘Nadine’ three tracks from their first album, Shame – their setlist overall focused on Shame and United We Stand, their most recent release – before raising the tempo with ‘Secret Girl’, the unmistakeable chugging intro exploding into its joyous chorus. Here’s ‘Buttercup’ from Islington, the tremeloed chords on Gossard’s guitar chiming perfectly with the piano line. Richard apologises for the shaky camera, but he didn’t have anything to rest his elbow on.
At the heart of Brad’s music lies a deceptive simplicity: the songs are forged by the interplay between Shawn Smith’s keyboard/vocal arrangements and melodies and Stone Gossard’s grooved guitar lines, always understated, always allowing the songs room to breathe. Additional touring member, the delightfully named and long-time Afghan Whig collaborator Happy Chichester, supplied rhythm guitar, backing vocals and keyboards as required. Behind them the laid-back Regan Hagar and Keith Lowe combined precisely and unobtrusively.
Smith, dressed all in black (apart from incongruous white trainers – the things you see at the front), peered out from under his hat and, although he spoke to the audience regularly and with a dry wit, seemed most comfortable letting his songs do the talking (sorry for the hackneyed phrase, but it was the truth). Gossard – as if to emphasise both how far Brad are from Pearl Jam, and how much Brad is emphatically not a solo project in disguise – played the entire set through a small, single-speaker Vox amp, augmented by a pedal board, finding a full range of guitar tones and sounds through this simple set up. Forsaking one of his two lovely Gibsons (yes, I had major guitar envy) only to play bongos on ’20th Century’, he also provided lead vocals on ‘Desenfando’. Here’s ’20th Century’ with its funky bass and delightful, sinuous riff. The bongos sound better than I remembered.
Highlight of the set came with the first encore, dedicated to Andy Wood, the lead singer of Mother Love Bone who died so tragically young in 1990, and who in many ways lies at the heart of this Seattle scene. A rapt audience watched Smith sing a trio of songs accompanied only by his piano: his other band Satchel‘s ‘Suffering’, a solo composition about Wood, and then an enchanting and moving version of Wood’s own ‘Crown of Thorns’. Only Smith perhaps can fully do this latter song justice.
The band returned onstage to follow this poignant triumvirate with the uplifting ‘The Day Brings’ and a cover of ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ that evinced a surprisingly good Jagger impression from Smith (vocally, not athletically!). The band finished where they came in, with the achingly beautiful ‘Buttercup’. A great song, undoubtedly, but it felt odd hearing the song repeated when it had already opened the set so sweetly.
Setlist: Buttercup, Good News, Nadine, Secret Girl, Waters Deep, 20th Century, The Only Way, Every Whisper, My Fingers, Diamond Blues, Desenfando, Price of Love, Last Bastion, Upon My Shoulders, Miles of Rope, Screen
Encores: Suffering, Wrapped in My Memory, Crown of Thorns, The Day Brings, Lift, Jumping Jack Flash, Buttercup
Here’s a link to some excellent photos of Brad and New Killer Shoes, taken the night before in Birmingham.
Here’s a relaxed Smith chatting and performing ‘Buttercup’ and ‘Crown of Thorns’ in someone’s living room a couple of years back: