The Staves at Whelan’s – Review
A sold out show, an air of eager anticipation within the walls of Whelan’s main venue, a vibrant atmosphere and an expectant audience gathered gladly on an unusually warm Thursday evening this week for Watford based harmonic folk sisters, the Staves. To coincide with the release of their new EP, Blood I Bled, the trio are in the middle of a small scale UK and Ireland tour, accompanied by a backing band, with tickets already taken for all but one of the dates.
The evening opens with ‘Blood I Bled’, the titular track off their latest EP. Produced by Justin Vernon, his musical fingerprints are audible, but that’s not a negative here. The songs benefit from his spacious production, giving ample room for the Staves voices to flourish. Light percussion and clean electric guitar join sweet ukulele as elongated, soaring vocal harmonies sweep through the sound system and set the tone for a night of bright, angelic, thunderous soulful singing. Heavy drums, toms pounding beat a fierce rhythm before the instruments fade and the vocals ring out clearly unaccompanied. ‘Open’, another new number from their EP, begins with a lonely vocal melody, softly strummed acoustic guitar and sparse drums coupled with electronic beats provides ambient depth and texture, a platform for their voices to intersect and weave wonderfully. Illuminating new material!
Big bass drum kicks hard as the crowd holler their appreciation for ‘In the Long Run’, the first track played from their 2012 Dead & Born & Grown LP, whilst tambourine adds tenacity of spirit, bangs brightly and moves feet. The group appear self conscious on stage at first, not overly comfortable interacting with the crowd, but they gradually warm to it, Emily especially, with Glastonbury anecdotes and menstruation jokes seemingly settling everyone’s nerves and getting the crowd giggling, laughing loudly. Lead vocals are swapped and shared between the three sisters and this draws attention to a well structured set that alternates around the different singers’ individual ranges and vocal styles and the differing ways in which they deliver their performances. ‘Pay Us No Mind’, another track from their 2012 debut, introduces a gentle waltz and Emily’s ease of delivery contains a certain grace lending their delicate harmonisation something striking, an intense weight, captivating and beautiful beyond belief. Likewise ‘Mexico’ is presented well and received similarly by the audience.
Some of the new material, like ‘Teeth White’, a pleasant enough pop walker, feels a little limp in comparison to audience favourites, such as, ‘Brother’, which was performed admirably, all three sisters crowded around one microphone, settled nicely with wide reverb, solitary electric guitar strumming accompaniment. Gentle, yet strong and sung passionately, the song elicits a massive reaction from the crowd, especially when offbeat drums charge in, brash and loud.
All too soon it seems, the evening is evaporating, an end in sight. The encore consists of ‘Facing West’ without the band and then ‘White Winter Trees’, with audience singing along, both taken from Dead & Born & Grown. After just over an hour the band depart the stage amidst rapturous applause. A short set indeed.
Vocal harmonies glisten gloriously throughout as the Staves shine. Old favourites sparkle especially, whilst new material from their current Blood I Bled Ep lacks the power and intensity of their debut. All gripes aside, when these three sisters sing, they demand your attention and the sound they create really is special. A beautiful noise to behold.
By Andy Guyett