When an incredible live set is your first introduction to a band, there’s always the risk that the next time you see them, now familiar with their music, they’ll have lost some of their sparkle. Having been blown away by Les Shelleys (the collaborative side project of Correatown’s Angela Correa and Tom Brousseau) during a recent support slot for Gregory & The Hawk, it seemed possible that this low-key gig wouldn’t quite match up to that show’s brilliance. Closing out their European tour with a support slot for Tom Eno, it seemed like my fears had been realised when, during opening number ‘In My Time Of Dying’, the duo’s vocals were drowned out by Tom’s guitar. Worse still, Angela’s quickfire clapping was practically inaudible, even right at the front of the crowd. A quick word with the soundman, however, and all was put right as they nailed to perfection a dazzling version of ‘Oh Babe, It Ain’t No Lie’.
It’s impossible not to be captivated by the simplicity of Les Shelleys’ live show. The duo use nothing more than an acoustic guitar, their voices and whatever percussive sounds they can muster with their bodies (including, but not limited to, handclaps, foot stomps, thigh slaps and clicking) to create their sound. No costumes, no theatrics. But, considering that the pair’s album was recorded in Tom’s kitchen on a minidisc recorder with a battery-powered microphone, this ascetic approach to performance is hardly surprising. Live, their voices merge together perfectly, as if complementary jigsaw pieces. It is this incredible chemistry that exists between Brosseau and Correa which makes their performance so beguiling. It is genuinely heartwarming to watch them stare lovingly at each other during their terrific rendition of the Frank and Nancy Sinatra classic ‘Somethin’ Stupid’ (though the pair are just good friends), and even more so to watch them collapse into laughter when they screw up the lyrics. Such minor slip-ups are not uncommon with Les Shelleys; in fact, they almost seem like an integral part of the show. Rather than detracting from duo’s impact, it actually adds to their charm and makes them all the more entertaining to watch.
Early highlights of the show included a superb performance of Nick Lowe’s ‘I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass’, which was rapidly followed by album cut ‘John Garfield Blues’. As they deliberated aloud over what to do next Angela admitted that they never prepare a setlist, preferring instead to let it flow naturally on stage (“Sometimes we fight over what to play next”, she told us, “but I usually win!”). The pair shared some whisky before singing some (almost) solo tracks, Tom taking the lead vocal on ‘Hearts Of Stone’ and Angela assuming centre stage for ‘My World Is Empty Without You’. While still lovely to witness, these tracks are as close to a weak point as I can pinpoint in the set; undoubtedly, Les Shelleys are stronger together than they are apart.
After setting the hairs on the back of my neck aquiver with their phenomenal interpretation of Bob Dylan’s ’The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll’, Tom and Angela descended into the middle of the crowd to perform their last few songs. If any other band attempted this, it most likely would prompt a cynical eye roll and mutters about the contrivance of it all. However, for Les Shelleys, this performance style feels right, as if this is the way their music was meant to be heard. The cave-like acoustics of The Social proved ideal, with the duo sounding better than they had all night, dancing around each other while singing the mischievous ‘Green Door’. Such was the strength of the audience’s response, the duo returned for an encore, with Correa convincing her partner to accompany her in an a cappella version of ‘More & More’. For a first-ever performance of the song in this way, it was wonderful, in spite of (or perhaps because of) a mishap or two. What else would you expect from Les Shelleys? Highly recommended.
[photo by Martin Sharman, used under Creative Commons licence]