Again it’s the end of the year and you wake from the weight of 12 months of heavy slumber and brush the sleep from your eyes. You look in the mirror and what else can you say but I’m “Edrych yn Llygaid Ceffyl Benthyg”. So sung Cate Le Bon on her first EP. Translated from Welsh it means “Looking in the Eyes of a Borrowed Horse”.
Since then she has released five albums the latest being REWARD released in May this year. It’s an album that is eclectic and at times appears as if it’s written in an emotional code that is totally inaccessible. However with each listen as the the name suggests there are rewards aplenty. Monday night at the Rosemount Hotel offers a chance to fully crack that code.
A cursory glance at the stage and my eyes fixate on the enormous xylophone. As a primary school student in the early 60s the xylophone was considered the premiere instrument in the class band. Alas with 50 odd other baby boomers in the class I was too often relegated to one of the ten triangles. It is hard to restrain my embryonic musician from leaping onto the stage and banging out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (always a xylophone favourite).
Le Bon and band take the stage with a minimum of fuss and launch sequentially into the first three songs of REWARD. Fellow Welsh person Gruff Rhys described Le Bon’s sound as “Bobby Gentry and Nico had a fight over a Casio keyboard and melody wins!”
Tonight it’s so much more than that, it is sumptuous. Live the songs are more drawn out than on the album with the deliberate vocals punctuated by a team of crackerjack musicians. On opening song MIAMI the staccato interjections of the baritone saxophone stalk the vocals like a threatening predator. DAYLIGHT MATTERS and HOME TO YOU sound like happy songs in the tradition of a fairground carousel. However the lyrics hint at the hidden sad, sombre and sometimes sinister undercurrent of a fairground. The band is a kaleidoscope of activity changing seamlessly from instrument to instrument. WONDERFUL from album CRAB DAY had everything but more from the recorded material. The drum solo mid song wailing like a pack of feral cats in the night almost destroying the song but then biblically resurrecting it. Pure musical genius. YOU DON’T LOVE ME is a powerful rock classic with running bass and interjecting saxophones. MOTHER’S MOTHER’S MAGAZINES is pure music hall from the Weimar Republic with Le Bon ululating like a German cuckoo clock before strapping on her guitar for the guitar shred of the kook-punk of MAGNIFICENT GESTURES. HABIT OF YOU is a cover of one of the late great Arthur Russell’s songs. True to Russell’s love of disco and dance the song is a playful blend of Blondie and ABBA. The set concludes with WHA”T NOT MINE with pulsating guitar riffs and twin saxophone stabs before giving way to Le Bon‘s fuzz drenched guitar solo. They return for MEET THE MAN which closes REWARD and closes the night to rapturous applause.
Welsh Musical Wizardry!