Last Harbour - Royal Park Cellars Leeds - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Last Harbour - Royal Park Cellars Leeds

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

One of the good things about Royal Park Cellars is that, as a gig venue, it gets full up pretty quickly, which makes a band feel they're playing to a larger audience than they actually are, while being packed like sardines into a low-ceilinged basement creates a crackle of tension in the crowd. There'll be none of that tonight, however, as spectators take their places at café-style little tables and peer at the stage through the slightly eerie, candle-lit gloom. The message is clear: tonight, we're going to get a show rather than a gig.

Manchester's Last Harbour are promoting their third album Volo. The fact that the album takes its name from both a type of early 20th Century toy Ouija board and to the Latin for 'a desire' should tell you everything you need to know about this band. Everything about Last Harbour's sound is opulent and decadent: mournful violin weeps over slowly building groundswells of guitar, interspersed with piercing Kurt Weill piano. The spooky moonlight serenades the band specialise in belong on the soundtrack to True Blood. In fact, references to blood pepper a few songs. Beneath it all, there is just the merest, but very welcome, hint of camp.

Flying darkly over proceedings is the voice of singer Kevin Craig; a truly a magnificent instrument. If much of Last Harbour's music combines the black-hearted murder ballads of Nick Cave with the slower post-rock dynamics of bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor! then Craig's voice is the glue that welds these disparate elements together; a rich, seductively sorrowful instrument pitched somewhere between Nick Cave, Lenard Cohen and Ian Curtis. Equally impressive is his commitment to selling the emotions in his lyrics. Craig is every inch the showman, even on a stage as small as the one he paces tonight. With more than a hint of Piaf chanson about him, he wrings his hands and contorts his body into an impressive tableau of insufferable torment. Occasionally, however, Craig seems to like the sound of his voice a little too much. 'Lights' is stretched out too long while Craig howls the refrain again and again, seemingly trying to wring out more emotion from an exhausted song. Then again, when Craig shares vocal duties, as he does with the band's keyboard player on 'No One Said', it's like a spell suddenly being broken. Music this emotionally expansive needs a presence as big as Craig's to make it work.

Although it seems certain the band are playing to the converted tonight, Craig points out they are selling copies of their new album, which comes free with a replica Ouija board. That seems to be Last Harbour all over: knowing humour mixed with genuine darkness.

Richard Morris

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