Saturday, 25 April 2015

Live in 2015: Zervas & Pepper at The Louisiana, Bristol on Friday 24th April 2015

After a beautiful week over the majority of the UK, the sun decided to cloud over - but not in Bristol as Paul Zervas & Kathryn Pepper brought their own sunshine sounds to The Louisiana.

I last saw Zervas & Pepper sell out The Level 3 of St David's Hall in Cardiff  last year.

This year saw the release of the duo's third album Abstract Heart. Now well into their stride as a band, Kathryn described the new album as being somewhat more intimate. And you can't get much more intimate than The Louisiana.

Tonight's show, as in previous years, concentrates on the new album, includes some old favourites, and a few surprises - well, no so much surprises as followers of the band will contest. OK, maybe ONE surprise.

Support for this tour comes in the form of John Anthony Fell - from the band Goodnight Lenin. With a similar taste in music to Paul & Kathryn (CSNY etc) - it was no surprise that they chose John as support. 
Stripped of his bandmates, John performed his songs admirably and had a nice line in self-effacing humour. The bands album was mixed by none other than Johnathan Wilson, he of the Gentle Spirit & Fanfare albums. And the fairy dust seems to have worked it's magic. I bought the CD after the gig and it's well worth a purchase. I would like to see the band play live and hear the songs in their recorded context. Although it's always nice to hear the songs as they would have been written.

Paul Zervas & Kathryn Pepper took to the stage with a band of Keyboards, Drums, Bass & Guitar.

They kicked off with the opening track from Abstract Heart called Miller. It's an upbeat opener and gives the whole band a chance to loosen up and get though fingers and harmonies working.

With a good six tracks taken from Abstract Heart - tonight was as much about the new music as the old.
The ease with which the new material slots into the show seamlessly shows just how Zervas & Pepper have grown as songwriters. The new songs are as good as the older material.

Zervas & Pepper released two songs as singles before the album was released a couple of weeks back. The next song of the set was one of these - We Are One. A song full of layered harmonies and dynamism, it certainly helped to heat up the crowd as much as the band. It was getting warm in there. And that's only two songs in.

My current favourite track on the new album is the short but sensational title track Abstract Heart. It's full of Laurel Canyon sunshine ( I know it's now a cliche but Paul & Kath still reference it, so I believe I'm OK). As with previous albums, the duo share the lead vocals and come together on the harmonies, which are as glistening as crystal.

I like to think of Paul & Kathryn as as Buckingham/Nicks combination. Both excellent songwriters who come together to produce magic - but hopefully without the domestic dramas. Their close relationship certainly comes across on stage with various in-jokes and the way they speak without words between and during the songs.

Two new songs in the shape of Terraform and Reaching Out are up next. Both get a great reaction from the now, shall we say, 'Glowing', crowd. 
It's always difficult for artists premiering new songs live but the quality of these songs are such that many of them feel like older classics.

After this initial  section of new songs, the band launched into the sublime Living In A Small Town from second album, Lifebringer. It's one of the highlights of that album and got a tremendous response tonight. Zervas & Pepper often perform these songs as just a duo but the songs certainly take on a different persona when played with a full band, as recorded. 

Most of the explanations of the new songs during the performance are by Kathryn, with Paul chipping in with his dry wit every now and again.

For anyone who has a working knowledge of Zervas & Pepper's career so far, it will come as no surprise that they have inserted another Joni Mitchell song into this year's set. This time it comes from the brilliant 1975 album The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, and is the track Don't Interrupt The Sorrow. The band play a superb version of the song (played on the album by the top session musicians of the time) and Kathryn gives a lovely interpretation without a hint of sycophancy. 

Another favourite of mine from the new album comes up next, Foolish Dreamer. A song sung by Paul which on the album has a rocky 12 string sheen. Tonight Paul gives it his all on the vocal front. He is definitely the spice to Kathryn's sweetness.

It's back to Lifebringer for the next song - the show stopping Buffalo Crow. The song has always been a crowd pleaser live and tonight is no exception.

Kathryn then introduced the next song as being the collectors item - one of the first releases, King Of The Skies - it was released as a 300 print, so are pretty damn rare these days. This is quickly followed by the the ultra-catchy Sure Fire Bet from Lifebringer. Still sounds a great song live.

The glorious Lookout Mountain from Lifebringer is another lovely highlight of the evening before we are introduced to another cover - again, not a surprise to fans of the band - it's another Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song, but not the sweet harmonious song you might expect - it's Neil Young's overtly political Ohio. Which, as Kathryn says, is as relevant today as it was when it was released back in 1971. It's a muscular performance which allows the band to let rip and rock out. Something that I kind of hope they do when rehearsing or just practicing their talents.

It's now an established tradition that the sets always end with the ethereal, Cigar Store Indian. And so it does. Paul & Kathryn seem genuinely pleased at the crowd's reaction, particularly to the new songs and following the gig, the Merch Stand seems to be doing big business - always a good sign.

But, like all good shows, there's always an encore. Now, in The Louisiana, the bands normally don't bother going off the stage as they have to go through the crowd to get on there and leave too.

The first song of the encore was the first song from Lifebringer, Jerome. The band certainly looked as if it wanted to leave the crowd on a rocking high. As was to be proved by the last song of the night. Not the gently beautiful, Celestial Friend from Abstract Heart but a pleasingly rocky version of the Steppenwolf classic, Born To Be Wild. Suffice to say, it brought the house down.

With a few more dates to go on this short tour to introduce Abstract Heart to the public, it seems like they have hit on a winning formula for their live performances and with a wider choice of material to choose from, they will only go from strength to strength.

Although if you're reading this Paul & Kath, another intimate acoustic night at The Chattery in Swansea wouldn't go amiss. (But that's just me being greedy, really).

Twitter - @zervaspepper

Twitter - @goodnight_lenin

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