Words by Ed King
I struggle with youth; my own (its subsequent disappearance), those with legitimate claim, and the childish exuberance from others around me.
And I’ve been struggling a lot recently, hearing something heart wrenching – only to discover it’s come from someone half my age, armed with only nativity, anger, ivory or bronze.
I’m too old to ‘relate’, and I don’t want to try. Let Jackson Browne tell me about heartache.
But whilst I can ignore the bus seats or park benches, those churlish explosions, I can’t ignore a stage, a microphone and 15k rig. Or a sell out UK tour, something Gabrielle Aplin has been enjoying throughout March.
Perhaps this is why I’m late, some subconscious denial (or it could be leaving my wallet at home) but as I hear a healthy cheer come from the Institute’s subterranean venue, I start to think tonight’s gig isn’t all I’m close to missing.
“This is the first time I’ve been to Birmingham without eating a curry,” offers Aplin, trying to goad an oddly reticent crowd. I squeeze up to the bar, and position myself so I can see at least half of her backing band; the packed room making me feel more short than old.
Aplin opens with ‘Panic Cord’; a foot stomping teen shrill, with more questions than answers, which she punches proficiently off stage.
As she segues into song two, I sense sensing the spectre of bad a soundcheck and struggle to hear. Aplin introduces Toke, the Skrillex of the violin world, and moves confidently on – despite the muffled distortion making the new strings barely audible.
‘How Do You Feel?’ slowly plucks through its opening verse, with soft throb from the back line making way for violin, keys and harmonies in the second chorus.
‘November’ gets a jangly six string strum introduction, and allows a solid platform for Aplin to deliver a considered vocal range. I’ve noticed a warble in Gabrielle Aplin’s voice, one that’s quite prominent on the studio recordings; but in this track, on stage and live, she nails it.
A bad microphone drowns out her calls for a clap-a-long, before the simple melody of ‘Salvation’ builds to a thunderous percussion and full band crescendo. I write ‘Coldplay arena moment’ in my notebook, but I’m not retrospectively so sure that’s such a compliment.
Aplin moves over to the keyboard for ‘Alive’, a “cheeky song” she wrote with her producer – Mike Spencer at EMI‘s studio time expense. Soft rolling keys over subtle guitar, with lifted vocals delivering a firmly held “realise/feel alive” chorus; intimidatingly accomplished.
The set continues with a collection of dedications, covers and tracks available for digital download. And, despite a misguided version of ‘Wisely & Slow’ by The Staves, Aplin maintains confident control of a strangely dubious room.
Gabrielle Aplin was recognised for her online solo performances, but works well with her band tonight; a partnership not all singer/songwriters can enjoy. She performs a rainbow of pace with believable grace; although the frenetic delivery of ‘Keep Pushing Me’ makes me imagine Mumford & Sons on Meth.
I enjoy the live sound (despite the dubious settings its coming through) with an excelled appreciation I didn’t get from the studio releases.
And whilst lyrically Aplin is noticeably young, and can fall into a puppy-dog-vocal-warble-trap that she’s talented enough to avoid – on the whole, I’m in.
I sense a maturity, something I didn’t appreciate before seeing her on the Institute stage; one that paints a reassuring backdrop for her debut album.
And something hopefully reciprocated by her audience, when Gabrielle Aplin tours some ‘scarily big venues’ this autumn.
For more on Gabrielle Aplin, visit http://www.gabrielleaplin.co.uk
For full listings at the Institute, visit http://mamacolive.com/theinstitute/listings
Or for more from Birmingham Promoters, visit http://www.birminghampromoters.co.uk