The Star and Shadow
Thursday March 9 2023
Leading up to tonight’s gig I’d been out walking in the chill Northeast air listening to the new Rozi Plain album – Prize.
The music is a lush chilled out soundscape, each song blending seamlessly into the other and I wonder how such a album, bathed in subtle electronica would lend itself to being performed live in Newcastle on a cold, late winter evening.
As I walk I’m thinking to myself surely, this music really would be best heard while lounging in a hip European beach bar whilst sipping a cold Italian beer, not on a day as cold as this.
I headed home and put the kettle on.
Over a cup of tea, I discover that Prize was recorded, for the most part at a beachside studio in France, so in fact my conscious dreams were not so wide of the mark after all.
It’s a chilly Thursday night on Tyneside, for the last few days we’ve had the lowest temperatures of the year and when Rozi Plain and her band take to the Star and Shadow stage, someone even called out ‘You all look cold‘.
It’s an intro of sorts that brings a wry smile to band and audience alike. Maybe it’s prophetic too as drummer Jamie Whitby Coles goes on to perform the whole set with his coat and hat on and with his hood up.
I manage to find space at the front of the sold-out room and it seems my pre-gig associations are complete when I note that guitarist James Howard is clutching a birra Moretti.
Before they start Rozi, (Rosalind Leyden) introduces her band and informs us that the majority of the songs they will be playing tonight will be lifted from their latest album Prize.
Without any further ado, they play four songs from the album straight off the bat; Complicated, Standing Up, Agreeing for Two and Conversation.
Each song is built on a short repeated riff of one or two notes sometimes carried by the bass or sometimes by the guitar of Rozi Plain herself, these repeated notes act as a canvas for guitarist James Howard to expand the soundscape with some beautifully structured guitar patterns.
I was even reminded of Radiohead’s, Jonny Greenwood at times. There are rich vocal harmonies too, layered over intricate melodies from keyboardist Gerard Black and a contained yet pulsating drumming performance from the well wrapped up Whitby-Coles.
The contribution of Black on a Moog synthesiser and keyboards has a discernible impact on the overall sound of both the album and tonight’s performance; buildings textures cleverly in different moments throughout, sometimes gently ethereal and at times he injects subtle psychedelic flavours to the mix.
On the album version of Complicated there are steel drums and elsewhere there is a smattering of brass and saxophone, these are absent tonight and are not reproduced electronically, which gives the live performance an honesty that I for one very much appreciate.
Its mix of alt folk, dream pop and jazz and lyrically there is an air of reflection running through the songs ‘What is it if it’s not? – Is it love when it stops?’ (from Conversation is a good example).
Any changes to tempo are subtle and I can imagine the casual listener might say ‘It all sounds the same‘ but that would be a lazy conclusion to draw as there are lots of subtle instrumental flourishes and some much fine musicianship on show.
The last but one song – Painted The Room, is possibly the most musically uplifting song of the set and here Rozi seems to lose herself in the moment.
The between song talk is limited but Rozi does tell us that she had spent the afternoon being interviewed for a ‘Hide and Seek’ podcast and had visited Thornley Woodland Park where she had bought a lollipop and had seen a woodpecker among other things, she thanked the venue profusely and bigged up local promoter Wandering Oak, who I must acknowledge is doing a great job putting together some imaginative shows in the region.
To summarise then, it’s really hard to pick out any particular songs from such a set as ‘highlights’, as I have said, the music Rozi Plain’s band record and perform has a spaced out feel to it.
There are small, understated moments of exhilaration such as at the end of Complicated – when Rozi sings ‘I’m alive! You’re alive!‘ Is that Rozi extoling us all to live in the moment and just enjoy the music for what it is?
Perhaps, but for me it is a line from the track Symmetrical taken from her 2019 album What A Boost that neatly sums up tonight’s gig – ‘A dream, a dream, a realistic dream.’
Yep, as I drive home through a blizzard I am dreaming, dreaming of the sun on my back, a beach bar, a Prize soundtrack and a bottle of ice cold Peroni…..or Moretti.
Courtesy William Graham
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