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LIVE REVIEW: Chapel Club at Talking Heads

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Chapel Club hit Southampton’s Talking Heads as the penultimate stop on their first ever UK headline tour.  The sold-out performance proved that the relatively new five piece, who formed in 2008 and were signed in late 2009, have undoubtedly found their stride.

Opening with their current single, ‘Surfacing’ - the chorus of which borrows from 1930s classic ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’ – the band instantly established an assured an d powerful stage presence, which they maintained throughout the set. 

This group have a very particular performance style, and they’re not afraid to stick with it - though their almost entirely straight-faced and static approach could leave them open to accusations of smugness or complacency. Personally I would argue that if their focus is on producing a high-quality and musically impressive set, then that can be no bad thing. Certainly it could not be disputed that they delivered on these points; there was not a single wrong note to be heard throughout the 45 minute performance.

Their cool concentration meant that there was no singing along or mouthing of the lyrics from anyone in the band except vocalist, Lewis Bowman; all were entirely focused on their own instruments, and no other mikes were on stage at any time. Guitarists Michael Hibbert and Alex Parry did give in to some movement at a few particularly passionate moments, but drummer Rich Mitchell was the only one breaking a sweat by the end of the set. It would be fair to say that bassist Alex Parry’s expression slipped from an air of calm confidence into the realms of disinterest at some points, but again this was a small price to pay for the quality of the sound produced.

Bowman himself gave a strong and impressively note-perfect performance, delivering each line with an intensity that showed in his face as well as his voice.  Again, his unswervingly serious look could perhaps have been interpreted as a sign of conceit, but any threat of this was in large part balanced out by his friendly and modest comments to the audience. A few songs in, he asked jokingly: "I said thanks for coming didn’t I?", adding "I don’t really have anything else to say... I have to say something otherwise people write that I’m arrogant."

He went on to thank the crowd for cheering at his mention of the release of the band’s debut album, Palace, before admitting, upon their enthusiastic reaction to his announcing an off-album track: "Every other time I’ve said that on the tour it’s just been completely silent." Later, on introducing the melodic ‘Fine Lines’, he gave some light-hearted encouragement to the slightly subdued audience: "It starts slow but it gets faster, so if you want to dance, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t."

He certainly couldn’t help but smile when a large number of voices began singing along with him to past single ‘All the Eastern Girls’, and was clearly happy to see a core group in the crowd begin to jump and wave their arms. The great response to this track helped to lift the mood of the gig, and showed that the audience did contain a significant number of already-converted Chapel Club fans.

Though Bowman deemed their closing encore track, ‘The Shore’ to be his favourite from the album, it was in some ways an odd choice, being more subdued than crowd favourites ‘O Maybe I’, ‘All the Eastern Girls’ or the first track of the encore, ‘Five Trees’.  As such, the peak of excitement reached with ‘All the Eastern Girls’ and sustained through ‘Five Trees’ was a little deflated by the end of the performance.

Nevertheless, the set overall was a highly enjoyable and slick showcase of Chapel Club’s undeniable talent, and it seems highly improbable that this will be the last tour they headline. The group give a distinct impression of precise and assured professionalism, which can only have come from very hard work and a true belief in their material.

'Palace' is out now. Chapel Club are currently touring the US and Europe, but will return to London in May. For more information visit www.chapelclub.com.

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