LIVE: Matt Pryor / Allison Weiss @ The Forum, Tunbridge Wells [23/02/14]

By Ben Tipple

Living in Kent for some years, it’s only natural to realise that the Garden of England is somewhat of a musical paradox. Defined by a rich history of alternative music, and spawning some excellent bands both old and new, it often defies logic that venues struggle to attract even a fraction of the punters commuting to London for their live music fix. Yet still, and understandably so, many bands choose to stop off at one of Kent’s many venues en route to the continent. It seems the county is spoilt for choice, yet not choosing to be spoilt.

Blaming the local residents for a gig’s disappointing turn-out may not be entirely fair, and tonight’s performance is marred by its timing perhaps more than anything else… it is a Sunday after all.

More importantly, a disappointing turn-out doesn’t necessary mean a disappointing show. Once those in attendance acknowledge the inevitable awkwardness of a sparse room, and once Allison Weiss coaxes the audience further forward by musing that nobody has ever been to a memorable show with a huge gap at the front, things are off to a surprisingly comfortable start.

In fact, tonight’s intimate nature is elevated by the handful of onlookers. The humour, verging on non-clichéd stand-up comedy, feels as if it is directed at each singular attendee. And there’s a hell of a lot of humour – be it the entrancingly awkward interactions between Weiss and the audience, or the good-natured mocking between Weiss and Pryor across the room, or the bodiless voice emanating from the dressing room behind the stage. Weiss fittingly closes off her set by expressing her hope that the audience have enjoyed the chat, even with the musical interruptions.

For all intents and purposes, tonight is a floor show. A house show. A hang out at a party with some people you’ve just met, playing some excellent music. It’s still entirely about the music. Weiss’ vocals engulf the space, as the likes of ‘Making It Up’ see her delivery overflowing with emotion. The songs sound even more real, relevant and immediate than they do when accompanied by a full band on record. By stripping them back the emotive cracks in the vocals become audible, and the perfectly balanced understated guitar work takes centre stage. Weiss presents a quirky, bittersweet take on the human condition, and one that is truly magnificent to hear.

The intimacy is not lost on headliner Matt Pryor either. Blaming Weiss for infecting him with her awkward ramblings, songs are started and stopped in order to continue stories of drunken fans and random encounters. Requests are encouraged, leading to a particularly special rendition of The Get Up Kids’ ‘Red Letter Day’.

It is evident throughout why Pryor has gained a reputation as one of the kings of emo, be that an agreeable accolade or not – his grittier vocals still embody the emotive lyrical content on both his solo and full-band material. Older tracks, The Get Up Kids and The New Amsterdams songs sit comfortably next to material from the recent ‘Wrist Slitter’, all stripped back and saturated with feeling. It’s as if this is how Pryor is meant to be heard – witnessing the culmination of years of vocal and instrumental development.

There may only be a smattering of us here, but for us, this is our show.