Shearwater – Nouveau Monde – 28.02.2016

Fribourg’s Nouveau Monde is a very cool venue. The building is the town’s old railway station, with the bar in the main hall and the music venue in one of the wings. The room is a nice size, fitting only a few hundred people. There was a decent crowd for Shearwater, but it was far from full.

I drove up to Fribourg with my visiting brother-in-law for this Sunday night gig – it’s about an hour from home. It wasn’t ideal timing, but I’d been looking for an opportunity to catch them live for the past few years. Their 2012 album Animal Joy is one of my favourites of the last few years, and in particular the songs Animal Life and You As You Were.

Sadly they only played one song from that album in Fribourg. It was brilliant to hear it live and that alone made the journey worthwhile, but I was disappointed not to hear a few more songs from that or the only other album of theirs that I (currently) own: I think they played one, possibly two, from The Golden Archipelago.

They played a lot of stuff from their newest album, and it was generally very good. The band were tight – the drummer in particular was giving it everything. He had the look of a man powering his way to the top of a mountain, determined to get there first. But the lead singer’s voice is the centrepiece of their music. It annoys some people (e.g. my lovely wife), but I think even she would have enjoyed this show.

I may just be getting old (39!) but I found it all a bit too loud for the size of the room. For the first time at a gig I actually made us of the free earplugs. It felt weird and I didn’t feel like I was hearing the music properly thereafter, but I definitely don’t want to take any risks with my hearing.

For the first of two encores they played a couple of David Bowie songs from his album Lodger. I wasn’t familiar with either, but they worked well. The clear influence of Bowie on Shearwater hadn’t occurred to me before. (As usual I was annoyed by the whole rigmarole around encores. Why not just stay on the stage and play all the songs they were planning to play and then let us all go home. It’s all very silly. I still remember Laura Marling’s very sensible approach to this issue when we saw her in Amsterdam in 2010. I do hope she’s sticking to her guns on the no encores thing.)

The support act was another band from Austin, Texas. I suspect they might have preferred a less polite crowd: the people who were in the room for their set remained pin-drop quiet in between songs, aside from a gentle smattering of applause once they realized the song was over. It was very disconcerting. Their music wasn’t my cup of tea.

I’ve tried – and failed – to find a video of a live version of You As You Were that does justice to what it was like in the room last night. There is this one from the Amsterdam date on the current tour, but it’s not quite as good as I remember last night’s version. (It was the final night on their European tour, so perhaps they were giving it a little more oompf on the night.) So instead here’s the studio version. Enjoy!