sat 30/05/2020

Ed Harcourt, Wilton's Music Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Ed Harcourt, Wilton's Music Hall

Ed Harcourt, Wilton's Music Hall

The singer-songwriter is back with his first album in four years

If the audience at Wilton's charmingly archaic music hall were feeling depressed by the bleak comedy of the England "performance" against Algeria, a whirl around the musical block in the company of Ed Harcourt was the perfect antidote. Critics feel compelled to categorise everything, and Harcourt has been compared to all and sundry, from Brian Wilson to Harry Nilsson to Tom Waits. But the great thing about Ed is that, despite being the 74 billionth singer-songwriter to walk the face of the earth, he manages to be a one-off, apparently sweet and soothing one minute, sending out pulsating waves of gothic gloom the next.
His new album, Lustre, is his first for four years, and has been scooping up rave reviews on account of its powerful songwriting and impeccable production. However, Harcourt live is a different proposition. The songs step out from their background and take on three-dimensional flesh, whether it's from the way Harcourt bawls the lyrics to the harsh stomp of "Heart of a Wolf" through a huge 1940s microphone, or how a couple of the three-piece Langley Sisters add pungent violin parts to the nostalgic yearnings of "Killed by the Morning Sun".
Sometimes Harcourt's songs can be simply exquisite, especially "Church of No Religion", where he floats his atheist message across a serene rolling beat amid a chord progression which, ironically, might have been divinely inspired. In "Fears of a Father", he squeezes a cradle-to-grave panorama booby-trapped with exploding clusters of metaphors into a five-minute waltz, as the Langley girls let it rip with the harmony vocals.
Were you to judge from the artfully lit photos on the sleeve of Lustre, you'd take Harcourt to be a sober, buttoned-up kind of guy, but put him on a stage and Mr Hyde soon starts to emerge. Ed enjoys a bit of a stomp, like the punk pastiche of "Born in the Seventies", where the band gallop along in a cloud of steam as Ed acerbically reassesses the last 33 years. In "Lachrymosity" (not a word you often hear in pop songs nowadays) Harcourt pounds the piano as if he's clattering out saloon-bar standards to an audience of drunken cowboys firing their Colt 45s into the ceiling, bellowing the lyrics as if this performance might be his last. (Harcourt onstage at Wilton's, pictured below)
harcourt_trimThere's no mistaking the heart of darkness wrapped inside a lot of this material. "When the Lost Don't Want to be Found" oozes metaphysical angst in a rather Leonard Cohen-ish fashion, as Ed's wracked voice and piano are counterpointed by stark electric guitar. Particularly sinister is "The Trapdoor", a horror movie in sound dripping with skulls and subterranean terror. You can't help noticing how the Langleys, in their matching white frocks, have something of the Brides of Dracula about them. Happily there's some light relief in the encores, including a dementedly fast one with a mariachi trumpet in it, and the sozzled country & western of "This One's for You".
At the moment, megastardom doesn't seem to be on Harcourt's agenda. He's too literate and complicated for that. But thank God (sorry Ed) you don't have to watch him in a sports arena.

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