Birmingham based The Destroyers, accompanied by Sheelanagig, brought their distinctive blend of rock, folk and klezmer (everyone knows klezmer), along with many other genres, to the outdoor arena at the mac over the weekend in what was a sold out spectacle of sight and sound.
The outdoor arena at the mac, Birmingham, is one of the best-kept secrets and rare gems of the Birmingham music scene. Like an urban coliseum of irregular concrete (where seating pads are a must) the unique venue works to increase the theatricality and anticipation of any performance, not least that of two of the most charismatic bands working the folk scene today.
A prevalent feature on the folk music scene and one Bristol’s best exports since getting together at Uni in 2005, Sheelanagig has honed their effortless fusing of genres to create their own distinctive blend of folk.
Add to the melting a pot tongue in cheek lyrics that reflect the vibrant personality of this charismatic band, some seriously good beats and stunning barbershop melodies and you have something truly special.
Playing songs from their new album, Cirque Insomnia, the band started proceedings with the lyric-less ‘A Sauce Too Far’ which exemplifies their control and timing from the off, featuring some stunning fiddle and big bass work, along with a subtle infusion of flute.
You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know the band that they might be purely instrumental but you’d be wrong….so wrong! The exquisitely named ‘Lost in Transitvania’ (check out the video here) and ‘Vlad the Inhaler’ highlight the excellent vocal harmonies and talent for playful, enchanting lyrics and leaves you tapping along throughout with glee in your heart.
Throughout the performance, the band is superb at generating crowd interaction and whilst the outdoor arena did not provide a platform for stage diving, it did allow for the band to get in the midst of the crowd and enjoy a dance or two, even allowing for guitarist, Kit Hawes, to do an impromptu handstand/hand walk in the centre of the arena mid way through.
Finishing off the fast paced set, the band returned to the Balkan roots that represents much of their influence with the song ‘Scotchne’. The varying speed of the song, which is inherent throughout much of the set, has the crowd frantically dancing around the concrete arena.
The surreal performance was ended on an equally surreal note, as the band had taken to the floor play the remains of the song lying down, when an usher approached and informed them we all had to evacuate the theatre as there was a fire alarm!
Bemused, we filed like lemmings out of the arena to to safety next to the lake in Canon Hill Park leaving us with a case of the Transitvania blues, achingly ‘calling for one more tune!’.
Once it was confirmed the alarm was false and we were called back into the arena, having been entertained by Sheelanagig’s tour tales in the interval.
At this time, the15 strong Birmingham based folk supremos, The Destroyers, took to the stage, wearing scientific lab coats and revealing themselves to be the mad professors that had been darted throughout the crowd before the show.
Like their predecessors Sheelanagig, The Destroyers are purveyors of the finest in melting pot music, effortlessly and seamlessly blending genres together in a cauldron of music, a style which made them firm fan favourites at last years Glastonbury festival.
Starting with the atmospheric, steadily building ‘Honga Bulgar’, the theatre of music begins as the array of talent on stage build slowly towards an explosive climax of fast paced sound that incorporates Balkan-Gypsy influence, electric guitar and a stunning mesh of trumpets.
Another lyric-less opening song, frontman and poet, Paul Murphy, is noticeably absent from the stage allowing each and every member of the group a chance to showcase their considerable talent and enjoy the full attention of the audience.
With the sense of occasion building, Murphy took to the stage creating a eerie atmosphere as his grainy vocals bringing the thought provoking lyrics to life.
The crowd was transfixed by the charismatic and intense frontman, who like a puppeteer commands those in the centre of the arena to rise and fall as he regales them with the brilliantly composed and hauntingly stark ‘Methuselah Mouse’, the up tempo ‘Where Has All The Money Gone’ and ‘Diamond Jones’ – a detailing The Destroyers unique perspective on the death of Emily Davison, the famous suffragette.
One of the greatest examples of the bands infinite creativity and ability to juxtapose startlingly somber lyrics with playful tones, is the stunning ‘Glass Coffin of Professor Zurinak’ regarding the professors being buried alive in, what can only be described as, a celebratory tone that is oddly at peace with the content of the lyrics.
Throughout the set, the band plays with a rare enthusiasm and talent, joining comedy and music together seamlessly. At times in the performance various members of the band weave through the crowd and climb on anything and everything, sometimes to the point where it threatens to overshadow the music.
But they know their craft well, and reign in the antics short of the point where they might compromise the quality and synchronicity of the performance.
Finishing the set with probably my favourite song ‘A Hole in the Universe’ the title track of the new album, and the anthemic ‘Out of Babel’, you start to understand that the scientific jackets are not costumes but the uniform of one of the most insanely, intriguingly, madly brilliant bands I have ever seen – truly a spectacle to behold!
Whether the setting of the gig, the superb bands on display, the fact the heavens smiled on us with the weather or all of the above – the entire evening had a tinge of magic and electricity in the air that is seldom found yet often longed for.
Thanks to Sorin Oividiu Rusu for the images on the night!