Sweet Billy Pilgrim And Bruce Soord Live In London

The Kscope labelmates team up for an excellent show.

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‘Is this the coming home? The ticker-tape parade?’ So sings Tim Elsenburg on Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s Slingshot Grin, one of many superbly complex yet emotionally affecting songs on their latest album Motorcade Amnesiacs.

Well, the band may not be carried on the shoulders of fawning cheerleaders tonight, but there is indeed an atmosphere of fond celebration. They remain a cult name – strange, given their constant self-deprecation and apparent allergy to any cool posturing – yet the cognoscenti greet their magical material with gusto. A genre-bending outfit who seem hell-bent on mocking themselves and are genuinely moved that the chilliest part of London offers such merited, overdue enthusiasm.

Warming up the willing is Bruce Soord, the Pineapple Thief man sketching out songs for his forthcoming solo album (prior to a new band album next year). He showcases a softer acoustic side, although this doesn’t deter guitarist Darran Charles of Godsticks from indulging in extended solos. Soord conveys a moody, melancholy slant on folk. One imagines it’ll be more fleshed out on record.

The Pilgrims come on with intent, launching into album opener Candle, Book And Bell, segueing into Make It So. At least that was the plan, but a technical hitch means a delay between the two, singer-guitarist Elsenburg sighing, “This never happens to Bon Jovi.” His between-song banter (often with co-singer/guitarist Jana Carpenter chipping in) is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s very good banter, involving, as the night develops, homoeroticism, pogoing and tawny owls. On the other hand, you sometimes don’t want the music’s spell to be so broken. Would SBP be ‘bigger’ now if they exuded more mystique? Or is it their very humanity that renders them lovable? Answers via postcard to the history of unanswerable A&R riddles.

While the perfect harmonies of arch lyricist Elsenburg and Carpenter are a thing of beauty and a joy for 80 minutes, the playing of ‘the other four’ (guitar, keys, bass, drums) makes the difficult sound easy. SBP are into key changes, rhythm shifts and giving themselves as many challenges as possible. That they achieve this while charming and never alienating listeners is a sign of their skill and sensitivity.

Motorcade Amnesiacs forms the bulk of the set – the bubbling Just Above Midtown, schizophrenic Coloma Blues and Carpenter’s yearning Tyrekickers are high points. They delve into their backstory too. Chief among the showstoppers is a beautifully sung acoustic take on Blue Sky Falls, which brings the house down, or at least doesn’t leave much of it for a grinding Kracklite to finish off. Somebody please hurl garlands at this group.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.