King Creosote’s iron-clad strengths are his songwriting - whimsical and understated - and his voice - fragile and melodic. Amongst the big band set at The Queen’s Hall this evening neither were allowed to shine as often as they wanted to, rusted amongst a soaring indie-rock sound that lost articulation of voice and instrument in favour of big world-crunching noise. It was the classic Arcade Fire pact, which paid off much better at the end of the evening than it did for the majority of the set.
The problem with this approach is that Creosote’s bardic lyrics rely on clarity and subtlety whilst a big rock set relies on energy and movement. The indie rock blurring of the second drowns out the first, replacing it with something more than enjoyable but nowhere near as distinctive as it could be. Creosote and his band also lack the dynamism to embrace the rock sound with an equally lively stage show. There was a lot going on - three guitars, keyboard, two drummers, backing singer and bassist - but it rarely interacted, jumped up and down or darted around. Creosote is a writer, not a raconteur.
Still, there was plenty for the crowd to get stuck into, and many an opening line or chord got a big cheer from familiar punters. ‘On the Night of The Bonfire’ and ‘Not One Bit Ashamed’ were particularly popular. The last half hour, which introduced a violin and cello to the band, was where things really took off, adding the sort of texture the soaring rock sound needed to make it distinctive. They also encouraged the lightness necessary for Creosote to do some material from last year’s Mercury nominated ‘Diamond Mine’.
As the band reached its finale with ‘Happy Song’ and again at the end of the two-song encore with ‘Jump at the Cats’, the populist, springy potential of their rock set was met in entertaining style. But it’s a song from earlier on - ‘I’ll Coast On By’ - that sticks in my head the most. After nearly fifteen years of innovative music-making, I hope King Creosote isn’t about to start doing so.