Stubborn Heart - Birthdays - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Stubborn Heart - Birthdays

by Priscilla Eyles Rating: Release Date:

The intimate and decidedly hip space of Birthdays in Dalston is packed to the rafters with young and trendy people waiting to see the electronic-soul duo in their first sold out London gig. The anticipation added to by the fact that they had to postpone the first gig due to singer Luca's unfortunate bout of laryngitis, Stubborn Heart, South Londoners Luca Santucci and Ben Fitzgerald, seem to have come out of nowhere. Their singles 'Need Someone' and 'Starting Block' have generating a lot of airplay on 6 Music via their friend Gilles Peterson, while Rough Trade made them 'album of the month' in October.

So there is rather a weight of expectation on this gig and, after the nervy, mistake-laden performance at an in-store performance at Rough Trade Records, there must be pressure to get it right this time. And there's a hitch already: It's 10pm; they were meant to come on at 9.30pm, but it's not just stage-fright. It turns out they were locked out of their dressing room. After, as Luca puts it, having had to go across the road to put himself in the right emotional place.

But he does manage to put himself in the right emotional place, despite the circumstances, and his voice is in fine form, as searing, fragile and beguiling as it is on record (with just that hint of Jimmy Sommerville falsetto in the higher notes) - even if he does sing a little off-key on 'To Catch a Spark', his favourite song but one he says he can't sing. It's clear Luca is worried about his ability to perform the songs live, asking the audience after one song whether he sang on-key, because it sounds like 'a strangled cat' otherwise, and admitting that he's closing his eyes while singing because he's "very nervous", to which the audience let out a sympathetic 'aww'. But, as he says himself, he doesn't want sympathy and he doesn't need it.

The set up is very simple, just a small keyboard, two laptops and a synth-drum-pad which Ben, with clockwork precision, beats now and again with timpani mallets. So the emphasis is on Luca's performance, but that's not to take away from Ben's, which never misses a beat or note throughout the entire gig. It is nice to see him clearly enjoying himself as nods his head enthusiastically to the music.

Hearing songs like the awesome garagey/2-steppy 'Unearthly Powers' (off the Need Someone EP), the slow-building, swampy 'Penetrate', the beautifully chilling 'It's Not That Easy', and singles 'Starting Block' and 'Need Someone' live brings home the emotional power of their music, while new song 'Do Tomorrrow' with its building momentum, spacey feel and Vangelis-like synths shows promise for new music to come. They end on the Something New remix of 'Starting Block', through lack of other material to perform, which goes down a treat, its more dancey percussion and low-end melodies providing an opportunity for the crowd to have a bit more of a rave (though one guy in the audience seems to be able to move to anything they play).

This show may have been a very basic set-up and certainly not the most exciting visually, but it goes to show that all you need is two passionate guys and some electronic equipment to make for an absorbing experience.

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