Withered Hand

'I'm Withered Hand, and these are my friends', announces Dan Willson as his three-piece backing band join him on the stage of the Electric Circus. There's a pregnant pause before he adds: 'all three of them.' It's a pretty good summary of what to expect from their music – a sense of isolation shot through with a dry, self-deprecating wit.Willson's speaking voice is the same as his singing – high, cracked, somewhat spooky – and he may not always be the easiest person to be around. Luckily for the audience, his neuroses and idiosyncrasies form the bedrock of his skewed, but uncannily beautiful, anti-folk songs, sometimes slowly soaking in religious regret, sometimes supercharged and howling. 'Religious Songs' is the best example of his take on the world, starting with a series of hesitant questions about the purpose of church ritual ('if this is Jesus' blood, shouldn't there be more') and climaxing with a delirious off-kilter choral yell of 'I beat myself off when I sleep on your futon.' Mixing sex and scripture, God and guilt, is what Willson does best, and tonight there's an extra squawk and yelp to his voice, oddly enough triggered by an attempt to sing too high. Thankfully there's ample support from the commanding tones of Neil from Meursault, also rounding out the songs with non-irritating banjo, so if Willson totally cracks up his back is always covered. The very first song is slightly tinny in the mix and annoying people talk over a quieter number, but what's audible of the new material promises more of the same great stuff. 'New Dawn''s Sonic Youth references get knowing recognition from the unsurprisingly indie crowd, and closing number 'Hard On' is as raucous as could reasonably be expected. I don't think he's named for his guitar technique.

Reviews by Richard O'Brien

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