Live Review

Smith Westerns, 100 Club, London

Rainy Oxford Street becomes heady, hazy Chicago for one night only.

Hidden underneath the pavement of Oxford Street, muffled by heaps of cut-price novelty onesies in Primark, there’s a small, but legendary music venue. 100 Club has played host to Ray Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Black Flag, and The Rolling Stones during the course of its rich history. Tonight the sold out basement is Smith Westerns’. It’s a long overdue return to London for the band, who were forced to cancel their last headline show back in the hazy past of 2011.

It seems somewhat unbelievable that it is still possible to see a band as outstanding as Smith Westerns on a stage that reaches halfway up the crowd’s shins – but it’s that intimacy that makes tonight feel so special. “If you don’t like our band then you’re in for a long night,” quips frontman Cullen Omori. He needn’t worry because the entire room is quietly smitten from the off.

Omori’s vocals have never sounded better, and ‘Foolproof’ kicks the show off to a flawless start. ‘Only One’ and ‘Best Friend’ follow, with Max Kakacek juggling glimmering synth lines with sparkling guitar solos that float effortlessly. The room is unfortunately quite static in response – whether that’s down to the obtrusive pillars breaking up the front row, or the fact that they’re just completely immersed and awed remains to be seen. “You who started the clap,” says Omori between songs, “It didn’t work, but I admire you. I like you.”

“Now we’re going to play a sad song,” he simpers, before launching into ‘White Oath’. It’s moment of the night, and pints begin to appear aloft in the air, swaying along to the painfully delicious melancholy of the beautifully simple chorus “chain smoke my days away, wrote my poems/Even though no one would ever read them”. It’s delivered with a vulnerable, trembling edge that breaks everyone’s hearts.

Technical catastrophe strikes later on in way of a snapped e-string; before ‘3am Spiritual’ has a chance to unfurl to full breathtaking potential. ‘Weekend’ teeters on a knife-edge initially, and Kakacek visibly winces as he tries to carry along that blistering lead riff with his now knackered guitar. Still, the show goes on, and after a brief hiccup, you’d barely notice something was afoot.

Heading back out on to Oxford Street’s rainy grey pavement, it feels like returning from a brief, heady holiday to Chicago. The crowd here must surely be pinching themselves to check they’re not dreaming. Tonight’s show – minor glitches and all - is extremely special. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and returning to a captivated London after three long years, it’s like Smith Westerns never left it.

Tags: Features

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