Angus and Julia Stone – Live

Ruby Lounge, Manchester 20/04/2010

By Denise Tench

The last time I saw Angus and Julia Stone play Manchester, it was in the basement of the Bay Horse. The candlelit room was scattered with old chairs and chaise longes and the brother-sister duo wooed their small, but happy, audience with free milk and cookies.

Their performance was unforgettable and the vocals – particularly Julia’s – brought the room to a hypnotic standstill. Even an incredibly butch guy sitting behind me whispered: “I’ve got a lump in me throat”. Overall, the evening was a great example of what can be done when a low budget meets a lot of heart and effort.

Understandably then, my expectations were high, perhaps unreasonably so, as I stepped into the Ruby Lounge for the Stones’ latest Manchester set.

Supporting them tonight was Alan Pownall, a Jack Johnson sound-alike whose mid-paced, carefree rolling tracks caught the attention of early arrivers. His strong take on the Strokes’ ‘Someday’ ended his set well and will no doubt score him some extra attention.

Following Pownall’s exit, things went sadly downhill. It became apparent that the venue had been grossly over packed to the point of anybody, except those in the front row, being able to see the stage. Additionally, the barely-partitioned lounge and stage were at odds as people wandered from one to the other, leaving no sense of concentration on the stage.

This brought about mass boredom and saw many of the audience chat their way through the whole set. People at the mid-way point, those at the back of the room and shorter folks had no way of knowing what was going on onstage. A lot of them may have been wondering why they didn’t stay at home and listen to the CD instead.

What was discernable, however, was that Angus and Julia Stone, seemingly oblivious or helpless in any case, focused solely on their newer material. Although lyrically and instrumentally impressive enough to have gained them growing recognition over the last few years, this was sadly drowned-out tonight.

The only track that quietened the room enough to make an impression was the deceptively whimsical ‘Mango Tree’ from the duo’s first EP.

Toward the end of the set, Alan Pownall joined the Stones for an unexpected rendition of ‘You’re the one that I want’. Yes, the one from ‘Grease’. And no, I’m not sure why.

Even more strangely, this was followed by a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ – a move which makes little sense considering the time the duo have spent building their back catalogue of delicious, multi-layered bittersweet folk tracks.

Having a chatty fan base in a packed venue might work out OK for some genres, but when it comes to music as delicate as the Stones’, it’s not a format for success.

Before it hosts any future gigs to full capacity, the Ruby Lounge needs to re-think its plans and layout, otherwise it will surely lose business from Manchester’s live music enthusiasts and cause new and existing fans of acts such as Angus and Julia Stone to turn their backs with indifference.

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