Lily & Madeleine with support from Shannon Hayden & Gaze is Ghost
McHugh’s Basement, Belfast – 2nd December 2014
It was a cold December night outside but there was plenty of warmth to be found in McHugh’s basement on Tuesday as the venue hosted a night of great music. Three acts; Lily & Madeleine, folk pop from two sisters hailing from Indianapolis, the engaging, experimental cello of Illinois’ Shannon Hayden and finally the ethereal music of Strabane’s Gaze is Ghost.
First up, Laura McGarrigle, otherwise known as Gaze is Ghost. Back in October Laura released the brilliant single ‘Revolvere’ so it was wonderful to see her on this bill. It was with this track that Laura began the evening, armed with only a piano, a loop pedal, a couple of mics and her mournful vocals.
In terms of songwriting, her songs have such interesting structures. Throughout her set Laura makes full use of that loop pedal, building atmosphere with reverb soaked spectral vocals, as integral to the songs as the melancholic piano, which at times recalls Radiohead, particularly their stirring ‘Pyramid Song’. Elsewhere in the midst of the melancholy there are jazzier moments, perhaps more evident on the record, ‘Plume’ with a definite Regina Spektor influence showing. Indeed the song structures throughout are interesting with Laura’s piano moving through varying sonic passages. Songs like ‘Invisible Cities’ rise and fall, indeed it’s Laura’s voice on this song that catches me most, rising into falsetto with ease and grace. There’s a quiet feel to Gaze is Ghost’s music, Laura’s voice rings out like a siren across the sea, mystical and enchanting.
where Laura’s ethereal vocals sound like some siren calling out over the sea, it’s stunning.
Gaze is Ghost may have seemed like an alternative choice to support Lily & Madeleine’s sweeter, poppier folk but in Shannon Hayden they certainly ensure the audience gets their fair share of experimentalism. Shannon has been touring with the sisters, accompanying them on their own songs as she does tonight, but her own music is utterly different. Shannon, with one foot bare, makes full use of a loop pedal herself but she plays an electric cello through hers.
Shannon is a classically trained cellist, and throughout her experimental and impressive range of soundscapes, it shows. Every aspect of her cello is turned into an instrument, percussion slaps, scrapes and slides, all morphed and looped through a series of effects. Shannon’s set is largely instrumental, with the occasional vocal or looped dialogue adding to the music. These are not songs, but flowing movements. Shannon builds the music up to a crescendo, adding layer and layer of bass, melody and atmosphere through her cello; reverb, stutter effects and metallic ring modulators all combine on ‘Blown Away’. Then Shannon cuts it all away, leaving just her plucked melody line. It’s refreshing to hear such inventiveness in a set, and certainly if Shannon ever makes her way back to these shores, Gaze is Ghost would be a fitting tour partner.
These two acts seem wonderfully different to the music of the night’s headliners, Lily & Madeleine. While Shannon may join the two sisters on stage, there’s certainly no repeat of the looped theatrics, Lily & Madeleine are a different prospect entirely.
Making their way to the stage, they’re given a great reception by the audience here. They’ve been making their way through the UK and Europe for the past month in support of their latest album, ‘Fumes’, released in October. Lily, centre stage with her acoustic guitar, Madeleine behind her piano and Shannon accompanying, they begin with the gentle ‘In The Middle’. Their appeal and perhaps strongest asset is immediately obvious. Musically these are charmingly simplistic folk songs but delivered by two pitch perfect sibling voices that sit so well together, complementing and harmonising.
Each track as sweet and soulful as the last, their set floats by; ‘Paradise’ sounds like some swaying 1940’s love song while ‘Can’t Admit It’ is a much more melancholic affair, with Lily dolefully gazing past the crowd; “I’m not so sure I want this anymore, and I’m not so sure I need it”.
For Lily & Madeleine simplicity is not a crutch, it is their appeal. Their music is reminiscent of small town American folk, with all the charm and innocence that image brings to mind. Backing the Lily & Madeleine’s voices is Shannon, filling out the music with plenty of expression and blooming melodies. On the popular ‘Back to the River’ Madeleine’s voice rises to a falsetto before being joined by Lily for the refrain.
The sisters, still young and perhaps still a little timid on stage grow into their interaction with the audience as each song is greeted by enthusiastic applause. There’s talk of travelling, Oslo and Madeleine missing her cats. The final track of the album, ‘Blue Blades’ was to be the last song of the night, but those Belfast chants of “one more tune” are accepted by the sisters who return to the stage admitting they are never too sure what to play in these situations. As it happens their choice is perfect. Swapping places, with Lily at the keys and Madeleine centre stage, the two perform a lovely version of ‘Sea of Love’.
This was a wonderful show, with two experimental artists in Gaze is Ghost and Shannon Hayden creating ethereal and moving soundscapes, complementing each other’s performances brilliantly. Lily & Madeleine brought their own sweet folk pop to Belfast, and it went down a treat. These innocent and charming songs were brought to life by the sisters’ interweaving vocals.