WIL­LIAM D DRAKE

Prog - - Limelight - MAL­COLM DOME

Out­side the venue, there’s the whiff of un­com­fort­able ag­gres­sion on the streets tonight. Inside, though, there’s a seren­ity, a sense of smil­ing calm. This gig cel­e­brates the 10th an­niver­sary of Ono­matopoeia Records, and Drake is head­lin­ing the all-day event.

Given that many have been here for sev­eral hours by the time he goes on­stage, Drake’s open­ing com­ment seems ap­po­site: “Is there any­body here still sober?” To his sur­prise, sev­eral hands shoot up.

The lo­ca­tion it­self is rather odd. The five-piece en­sem­ble are all crammed onto the tight stage. Much of the floor space is taken up with benches and ta­bles, set at an­gles, which makes it awk­ward to watch the stage, while many play pool through­out the per­for­mance, just a few yards away. How­ever, this all adds an ap­pro­pri­ate in­ti­macy to pro­ceed­ings.

Drake’s mu­sic has a baroque ec­cen­tric­ity and melo­drama, and it’s also laced with a quirky English ec­cen­tric­ity. This is early Ge­n­e­sis mixing things up with El­gar, while un­der the in­flu­ence of Gen­tle Gi­ant and The Goon Show. It’s cer­tainly sur­real, but car­ries an af­fect­ing charm. Drake him­self is an ex­pres­sive pi­anist, and while he doesn’t have an ob­vi­ously tune­ful vo­cal style, the way he mod­u­lates his tone has a thes­pian con­vic­tion as he re­counts sto­ries through the lyrics.

Many of the songs are short, catch­ing out the au­di­ence as they un­ex­pect­edly end. Oc­ca­sion­ally it takes a sec­ond or two for the de­serv­ing ap­plause to ring out. The Cat­ford Clown and Dis­tant Buzzing are par­tic­u­lar high­lights, al­low­ing Drake and gui­tarist Richard Lar­combe to com­ple­ment each other. There’s a real rap­port be­tween the pair, which be­comes ob­vi­ous later when they spon­ta­neously grab each other’s hands and break into a burst of pogo­ing! Mean­while, James Lar­combe on the hurdy-gurdy adds some neat fair­ground touches.

While the set has clearly been metic­u­lously worked out, there’s room left for spontaneity. So, when On The Dry Land gets a good re­ac­tion, Drake de­cides to re­peat it straight away, and this gets an even more dy­namic re­sponse. In fact, there are a few in the crowd ask­ing him to play it for a third time, but the temp­ta­tion is re­sisted.

The main per­for­mance ends with the breath­tak­ing Melan­choly World, one of the few lengthy ex­cur­sions that goes through sev­eral tempo changes and is wrapped in a rhyth­mic coat of weari­ness. The song is imag­i­na­tive and care­worn, show­cas­ing Drake’s tal­ent for weav­ing a dark tale. By con­trast, the jaunty Love In An Over­coat, dur­ing the en­core, has a light­ness that could eas­ily cross over to the main­stream.

Drake and his en­sem­ble never lose sight of be­ing en­ter­tain­ing, and com­bine this with a mu­si­cal depth that’s re­mark­able. It works splen­didly in this most un­usual lo­cale.

“WHILE THE SET HAS CLEARLY BEEN METIC­U­LOUSLY WORKED OUT, THERE’S ROOM

LEFT FOR SPONTANEITY.”

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