Not many bands, in particular few lead singers give quite so much emotion in a performance as Shearwater and Jonathan Meiburg did at a packed, often awed Bush Hall. At the climax of an encore of Talk Talk’s 'The Rainbow', Meiburg looked spent having wrung out every last drop of passion from both his wavering voice and guitar.

This year’s 'Rook' is an iron fist in velvet glove of an album: At first restrained and well mannered, it has a weighty sense of purpose. It fuses folk and classical sensibilities and talent with the power and immediacy of rock. That this can be translated so seamlessly into a live setting, is testament to the band’s musical quality.

Shearwater are multi-instrumentalists: Meiburg plays banjo, guitar and keyboards among others. Bass player, Kimberley Burke, alternates between guitar and double bass, occasionally using the bow on the guitar. Most remarkable of all is clarinet-playing drummer, Thor Harris.

Often the brunt of jokes about hanging about with musicians, drummers are not noted for versatility. The diminutive, hobbit-like Harris is no one trick pony. As well as drumming, he scampers about the stage, playing xylophone, keyboards and sundry other instruments I really couldn’t name, probably because he built them himself. At one point, he takes a violin bow to a cymbal to produce a quite unearthly drone.

The band certainly have a magical quality: From Meiburg’s controlled, ghostly voice where his words become lost and meld into the band’s music, to the baroque textures of the band, you are in no doubt that you are witnessing something special. They are certainly play to a niche market, but it’s a nice niche to be in. You will never have to troop to some cavernous arena and part company with a day’s wages to see them.

Shearwater’s music can be as florid and overblown as the Bush Hall’s ornate extravagant cornicing and chandeliers and at times Meiburg seems overwrought with emotion, though he manages to keep it from seeming effected. But amid the elaborate arrangements there is always a core of Meiburg’s inspirational performance.

Having seemingly ended the set, Shearwater suddenly appeared at the back of the room, so those of us who were at the back were now at the front listening to an acoustic un-amplified encore. Those who were at the front probably couldn’t hear a thing.

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Commenting On: Bush Hall, London, 17/9/2008 - Shearwater

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