Jonquil & Keep Shelly in Athens (but mostly Jonquil) @ Glasslands

By superstar contributor Caitlin White 

[photo by Tom | GoldFlakePaint]

It seems that everything Hugo Manuel touches turns to gold. From Chad Valley to Jonquil, I am head over heels for this man’s voice, in its myriad of forms. Manuel switches effortlessly between a soft lullabye vocal and the lovable British yell singing that still sounds harmonious, and I got to see this first hand last night at Glasslands. However, Manuel’s pipes aren’t the only thing that made their performance lovely, the entire band was so talented I just stood there dumb struck for a while wondering why I’d never taken the time to really delve into this band before. They seemed to have a really good vibe as a band and worked well together, which sometimes isn’t present in a band that has other solo projects and offshoots involved or that has changed members throughout albums as Jonquil has. This collaborative spirit was even echoed in guitarist Robin McDiarmid’s red guitar in almost the exact shade as Manuel’s keyboard.

Jonquil – “Get Up” [MP3]

Glasslands wasn’t as packed when Jonquil opened, I didn’t make it in time to catch the act who played before them, New Moods, but I arrived right as Jonquil began with “Real Cold” and was surprised that I could work my way right to the front. Maybe the elite music-conscious hipsters of Williamsburg themselves are a bit behind on this Brit pop gem! I’ve never felt more sorry for the in-crowd missing the double trumpet grandeur of Jonquil on “I Know I Don’t Know”. It was truly amazing, both trumpeters switched between trumpet and another instrument, one unknown contributor on a sampler along with the horn and bassist Sam Scott switching between his bass and trumpet.

I can’t lie, I’m a sucker for the British accents that they had, although I’ve always thought it strange that they rarely show up when singing. This made the little bits of banter in between sets that much more endearing, at least to the female members of the crowd. I mean seriously, have you ever heard a girl say that British accents just annoy her? No. Because they’re awesome. Unfortunately, I don’t have a very clear grasp on the tracks that were played as I hadn’t listened to the new album before I attended the show, and I don’t know the old ones well enough to recognize them without an introduction. As a new listener I did find it a bit frustrating that Manuel didn’t announce the songs by name, and as a music blogger it felt like a tragedy. Luckily the band emailed a set list so I could cross-reference. Thanks guys! I will say the third song they played, “It’s My Part”, reminded me of a rocked-up Beirut track, with a languid quality that was adorned with electronic beats and shakers. The guitar solo on this song was reminiscent of another band I whole-heartedly love, North Highlands, with a certain energy that seems impossibly fast but perfectly on track at the same time.

Previously I had only seen a Chad Valley DJ set at CMJ’s illustrious Megablaag last October, so it was nice to see him actually wailing on the keys and singing, and it was easy to see why any project he is involved with quickly gains momentum. The highlight for me though was always the dual trumpets, they really took my breath away whenever they showed up, which was fairly frequently. I always think once a band is incorporating brass they’ve moved past just plain synth-pop-rock and begun doing something a step or two above that. If I had to place Jonquil in a genre though, it would definitely have to have “crooner” in the title somewhere, as Manuel’s voice easily slips into that silky smooth quality that classic vocalists use. It’s just that his vocals are backed by a sound so new and current that his vocals are just one strand amidst the cacophony of sound these guys manage to produce.

“This is another song on the album that I’m trying to get you to buy” Manuel quipped between songs before bursting into their fifth song, “Getaway”. I personally find the smoke at Glasslands a bit much sometimes, and there was a large dose of it accompanying this song. I still managed to see through the haze to Manuel’s drawn out chants on this track and his earnestness. This is clearly a man who believes in his craft with his whole heart. The breakdown on this song reminded me of The War On Drugs with its zoned out quality that somehow never gets old. I feel like even if it went on for twelve minutes it’d still be interesting, I thought it ended too soon actually, I was just getting into it when it cut off unexpectedly. The sixth song, “Point Of Go (Part 2)” might have been my favorite, his vocals on this song reminded me of Stars and the organ setting on the keyboard combined vintage sounds with the futuristic guitar that danced and looped with the almost ominous vocal line. I loved it when Manuel would stand back from the keyboard and play with only one hand, taking a brief rest. He seemed so natural onstage, like he was just jamming with some friends in a garage. The second to last song, “Run” had an Animal Collective feel to me, definitely the hoppiest track, felt like something I could dance to, the chorus was an absolute free fall, while the back beat from drums and bass made this a song impossible to stand still to. I kept comparing Jonquil’s sound to snippets of my other favorite acts as the night progressed, but there was no band I ever felt like they were copying or no comparison that fully-encompassed their diversity – the sign of a great up-and-coming artist in my book.

In fact, I was doubly impressed with Jonquil after watching the following act, Keep Shelly in Athens. Not to say they weren’t good, but the amount of production and performance art tied in with the songs seemed a little overkill after the clean and simple performance Jonquil flawlessly delivered. Anyone who has a projection of their own face behind them while they’re singing is trying a little bit too hard in my book. I doubt I’ll go see Keep Shelly in Athens again but I will attend every Jonquil show I can get to, they are great musicians, great performers, and those accents!

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