Slow Readers Club – Live Review
I had three hours to wait between interviewing Slow Readers’ Club and seeing them play. The Magnet’s an alright place, but that’s a long time to sit in a basement and I only have so much money to feed the Galaga machine, so I went to find a historical pub.
I ended up having one of those three-beer samplers in the Philharmonic Dining Rooms. I wouldn’t go there on the regular – the prices aren’t ridiculous, but they’re not student cheap either – but it’s got perhaps the nicest toilets in Liverpool. I’d have taken a picture, in the interests of journalistic clarity, but I figured that waving a cameraphone about might have given the wrong impression so you’re just going to have to take my word that they’re one of the things you should see while you’re living here. Like the Raz. Or the Beatles Experience.
I pulled myself from that vision of beauty in time to see Halem playing support, which was fortunate because it turns out that Halem are great, like Years and Years but better. Check them out.
Slow Readers Club came on at about half ten, counted themselves in with the cymbal and led off with the title track from their new album, Cavalcade. If invoking U2 in the interview didn’t make their ambitions obvious enough, then Cavalcade’s echoing guitars and grand choruses, building into a burst of falsetto, clears up any doubts – this song, and the ten that followed, sounded fine enough in the Magnet’s basement but were clearly meant for a stadium. My instinct’s to scorn this, but that says more about my fear of being seen as having low tastes than it does about any inherent qualities of stadium pop. Writing with a large audience in mind doesn’t have to mean formulaic music, and touches like the rumbling drums in B-Side Photograph and the rising and falling guitar line of Fool For Your Philosophy kept the songs from fading into each other.
The band played pretty consistently well throughout the gig (I know this because I’ve written “GOOD GUITARS.” in big letters across my notebook – I need to work on my shorthand) but the songs were given further strength by Aaron’s vocals. His lyrics occasionally veer towards the maudlin end of the spectrum (`My soul is bared for all here to observe`), but even then they’re given weight by his delivery. That “soul is bared” line is actually from what I think is one of his best performances, I Saw A Ghost, in which he lays out his miseries in ways that won’t sound too alien if you’ve ever listened to anything more sentimental than, say, Kraftwerk, but clearly enunciates each word in a way that makes them sound real, like he’s got through the initial shock and had the time to think them through, but still can’t see any way past them.
Slow Readers Club’s greatest strength, however, is their gift for arrangement. A lot of the songs were nudged from good to excellent by way that they build it up. There are all these moments where they add or drop an instrument or change the tempo at just the right time, like two words into I Saw A Ghost when they suddenly snap the song into focus with a blast of the cymbal, or around thirty seconds from the end of Cavalcade, after spending three minutes or so adding more and more layers, when they open the song out into a coda of sparse guitar notes and thudding drums. I could waste a lot of words going through one of their songs with a running commentary on what’s happening, because it’s just satisfying to look at how they’re put together.
The band mentioned in the interview about wanting to introduce visuals to their performances, and looking back on that now I’ve seen their sense of timing makes me very interested. They’ve got a clear idea of how their songs work, and an ear for how small details can contribute towards a whole, and I think that could make for some excellent visuals.