Monday, 18 February 2013

Gig Review: Rough Comforts

A little gig review I wrote for university...

Rough Comforts at The Lifeboat, Margate 19/12/12

Kent-based singer-songwriter wins over a home crowd with his heartbreakingly beautiful songs.

“Should I just start now?” asks Rough Comforts (real name James Mathew Davies), the singer-songwriter from Kent, who’s as polite as he is shy. It may seem strange for a man who’s been making music for over 15 years - from post-punk collective Babies Three to folk-pop outfit Elle Rayenne. Though understandable considering his current venture sees him stepping away from the drums and in front of the mic; guitar in hand.

The gig kicks off with a cover of Grizzly Bear’s ‘Deep Blue Sea’. Immediately the crowd is divided into established fans and those who are more interested in the local ales. The additional setback of playing without a PA system contributes to the initial disconnect of the audience.

After an underwhelming start, Davies nervously follows up with ‘Negative Capability’, from his 2010 debut album, Self-Titled. It’s the first time his seamless falsettos feature and are charming to the point that even the line, “like pissing dogs” sounds strangely sublime. His musicality bears a similarity to that of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. Throughout the song they build to a crescendo, which sets up a punch served by the anthemic final chorus. At this point, a few more people start to take notice. It begs the question as to why this wasn’t the obvious choice to open the set with. 

In between songs Davies is constantly self-deprecating and eager to please. In an attempt to keep the audience on his side (“I don’t want to bore you with depressing songs”), he lets them decide between two Prince covers. ‘The Most Beautiful Girl In The World’ shows off his faultless vocal range and despite being an odd choice, people respond even more.

With the set in full swing, Davies is finally hitting his stride. He continues with ‘Too Afraid To Ask’ and ‘Warmer Place’, both fresh from his recent EP release, Heavy On My Mind. The depth and brutal honesty of these songs in particular may explain for his retiring on-stage demeanour. However, he completely loses himself whilst performing. Even in his awkward moments, Davies manages to execute with brilliance.

He keeps the fans sweet by proceeding onto ‘Deliver’ - arguably the most successful song in his repertoire. In moments, the dulcet tones of Davies are made even more poignant during the melancholic breakdowns. Not unlike the wavering coos of Thom Yorke, albeit a slightly toned down version.

Despite receiving his loudest applause yet, Davies is uncertain whether to carry on, asking whether he should “do one more or just stop?” Finally, he settles for ‘Petit Mort’ where for the last time, he shows the sheer vulnerability of his songs. “Your tears and pain they know my name, place your lonely hand in mine.” As Davies plays the final few chords of his set, he looks up to find a notably larger audience, erupting in applause. It seems as though Rough Comforts may need to get used to this.