It’s a rare occurrence that the support act manages to completely out-class the main event. However, Xylaroo, currently supporting Matt Berry and the Maypoles have managed it, their sheer talent and musicality trouncing the lacklustre experimentation and pretension of the headline act. The two sisters, Coco and Holly, initially seem shy. Their arrival on-stage is announced by a quiet introduction, and they perform off to the right of the stage, due to the large mixing deck and keyboard set up for Matt Berry and the Maypoles that occupies the centre.
This off kilter arrangement serves to dilute the overall performance, and hinders their connection with the crowd. They should have been centre stage, where they belong. What they lack in stage presence, they make up for in sheer vocal power and emotion. Their quiet, husky voices are completely at odds with the smooth honeyed harmonies and the virtuoso melodies they sing together, managing to inject rhythm and depth with dextrous crescendos and subtle pauses, evoking the melancholy of First Aid Kit and the vocal heft of The Peasall Sisters.
The duo plays a selection of songs from their debut album, Sweet Tooth, with the stand out being ‘Track A’ Lackin’, an mournful yet energising ballad. Although their tunes have a tendency to become slightly homogenous, the guitar chords of one song blending into another other, each is a joy to listen to. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for the following act, also exhibiting material from their new album Kill the Wolf. They open with the new track ‘Night Terror’ a confusing cacophony of experimental prog-rock. Berry strides around the stage, acting as a conductor by cueing in each band member and occasionally pausing to whack a cymbal or play a riff on the synth keyboard which so restricted Xylaroo’s stage space.
‘You’ve got to have a lot of balls to open with that one’, Berry admits to the crowd. You do indeed. The next two songs, ‘One By One’ and ‘Gone For Good’ repeat the same tiresome conceit. It feels less like a structured performance, more of a collection of half finished off-cuts from a studio session, repeatedly meandering into tedious atonalism or being dragged off on a tangent by Berry’s interminable keyboard solos. However, amongst the mediocrity are glimpses of promise: ‘Snuff Box’ is a solid, funky tune with some semblance of structure, and is only blighted by the indulgent, obligatory round of solos from each instrument, and ‘Take My Hand’, the titular song from the brilliant Toast of London, are enjoyable. They are the only tracks that feel like finished articles. Matt Berry himself is a conundrum – a far more accomplished performer than musician, his deadpan interactions with the crowd are the most engaging moments of the evening. One expects that his comedic abilities would be deployed in his music, that his scabrous sarcasm would have infiltrated his songs, which so often feel like a parody of themselves. Sadly this isn’t the case.
During the encore, Berry brings Xylaroo back out to play with the band, and it is here that the difference in quality becomes most apparent. While Xylaroo may lack the commanding presence of Berry, which will come with time and exposure, they are the stars of the show, their syrupy voices adding a vital touch of class to a confused, and at times frustrating, evening.
Guest Reviewer: Louis Walsh