Vetiver, Islington Academy, London, 17th December 2019

The Islington Academy is one of London’s smaller venues, a room that revels in its awkward layout that surely aspires to non-Euclidean geometry, its poor lighting, and its really sticky floor. If it were a pub then it’d be of the spit and sawdust variety. Which is all very down and dirty and rock and roll – the only thing that lets it down on the Indie Cool factor is that it’s located on the first floor of a fairly modern shopping mall, quite near the food court. It’s very odd to step into this dark pit straight from a world of escalators, metal banisters and glass fronted shops. Once in this rock and roll Narnia though it’s easy to forget that the location isn’t just a little more hip.

This was a night of many bands – starting with Fell, although this was a non-band performance by just the lead singer and guitarist Nicolas Burrows who gamely strove to get his alt-folk across. He was followed by the ever popular Treetop Flyers before it was time for Vetiver. Vetiver is Andy Cabic and whoever he’s playing with and on this night it was just Cabic solo, his guitar gripped close to his chest and looking, when he sang, as if he were lost in a reverie. It’s an intense and intimate performance stance and demands, nay requires, the kind of reverential audience hush that the majority of the songs achieved. This was that Laurel Canyon wooden music that we crave, words dropping indistinctly and picking up a sheen of depth and insight as they fall.

Andy Cabic’s well known for celebrating other songwriters – albums such as ‘Thing of the Past’ are made up solely of cover versions – and he opened the evening with ‘I Must be in a Good Place Now’ from that album, and later on slipped a lovely take on Suzanne Vega’s ‘Gypsy’ into the set. Cabic was also showcasing his new album – the excellent ‘Up on High’ – with the title track being the first to be performed – it’s a wonderful blend of finger-picked guitar, a typically dreamy mood and, around the edges, a touch of Slaid Cleaves about it. No bad thing. The more upbeat ‘Wanted, Never Asked’ clipped along with the fine melodic line inducing the requisite audience swaying that passes for dancing.

Amongst song introductions Cabic expressed his relief that he’d been able to carry off his solo performances on this tour, adding that he’ll be back in the Spring of 2020 with a band – something to definitely look out for. ‘To Who Knows Where‘ had Cabic hitting his higher register, on a piece of perfect Seventies singer-songwriter styling that sees him metaphorically rubbing shoulders with the likes of James Taylor. Even with just his solo guitar ‘Swaying’ retained its rock feel as Cabic strove to find realities in his life and loves. The main set closed out with the Treetop Flyers joining Andy Cabic for a rocking take on Ronnie Lane’s ‘Roll on Babe’ – which blended the energetic and the the dreamy in equal parts, what a joy.

The final encore was back to just Cabic for a prime cut from the album ‘To Find Me Gone’ and the metronomic ‘You May be Blue’ which throws out half-remembered guitar licks which give it a, yes, dreamy, late-sixties feel. It had been a special evening, magical music which drew the listener in until the Islington Academy became an intimate space. Then it was back out through the wardrobe door into the realm of facades, into the cold and wet but braced up by an internal emotional warmth. Whatever it is, Vetiver has it.

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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