LIVE: Deaf Havana at Union Chapel, London [04/04/13]

By Lais

Tonight Deaf Havana offer an evening of alternative takes of their tracks, predominantly from the deluxe edition of ‘Fools and Worthless Liars’. Far removed from their heavier youth, the band experiment with band structures and inject a vast range of genres into their performance. Rather than a straightforward acoustic delivery, tonight is a celebration of the band’s diverse musical tastes. Judging by their consistent beaming smiles, this is also a lot of fun.

Before Deaf Havana take to the stage in the ever-stunning venue, audiences are treated to the largely unknown Big Sixes. As the band themselves proclaim, these two shows at the Union Chapel expose them to a higher number of listeners than their year-long career. Fortunately their harmony-fuelled blend of folk compositions and atypical vocals are perfectly suited to their surroundings. Big Sixes deliver a largely flawless performance, mesmerising the already considerable audience with seemingly minimal effort. With insufficient recorded material on which to base judgements it is difficult to imagine their subtle tones outside of this acoustic environment. Regardless, the band prove themselves as one to watch.

Altering the mood considerably with a more jovial attitude, Deaf Havana are clearly loving every minute of tonight’s performance and their new found direction. Inoffensive banter between frontman James Veck-Gilodi and percussionist Tom Ogden keeps the ambience light, as do the regular changes in positions – ‘Smiles All Round’ for example sees James take to the drums while recent addition and brother Matthew adopts vocal duties. Haphazard mistakes in the complicated instrumental switches only serve to add another level of intimacy, occasionally transforming the Union Chapel into a cosy living room.

There are considerable moments where the audience is engulfed by this intimacy. Alternative versions of tracks such as ‘The World or Nothing’, ‘Leeches’ or ‘Anemophobia’ are breath-taking in the confinement of the functioning church. New track ‘Saved’ and Counting Crows cover ‘Round Here’ provide the more straightforward (almost) acoustic performances, allowing James to project his increasingly impressive voice.

Conversely, the likes of ‘Youth In Retrospect’ and ‘Friends Like These’ fall too far into animated territory. Switching the guitar for the banjo as an example limits the depth that categorised the original version of the record tonight is based upon. Instead of retaining the absorbing atmosphere, the tracks impart an air of novelty. This sits rather uncomfortably against the successes of the evening.

When Deaf Havana keep the merriment in their personalities and remove the novelty from their sound, they host a clever and bewitching evening. Fortunately the superficial moments are few and far between; the band proving their broad appeal as well as their musical skill. Deaf Havana may have donned new clothes but judging by tonight, they wear them extremely well.