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Summer Camp played with admirable confidence on the first night of their headline UK tour. They have a vintage, almost naive, appeal to their sound which carried through wonderfully to their gig in the refreshingly different venue of Lancaster Library.
Mancunian support band Alt-j began the evening with an interesting performance. Their attempts at creating an original sound faltered at times, but their experimentation was absorbing nonetheless. One particular highlight of the performance was the unusual drumming style; a hypnotic (if slightly repetitive) ‘ting’ of a cowbell replaced the predictable use of a hi-hat and the inclusion of bongo drums created a varied and unpredictable drumming style. Alt-j are certainly a band with some potential which may well be realised in the future, even if some of the nonplussed members of the crowd may dismiss this claim.
The intimate venue gave the gig a very personal feel, and so did the beginning of the gig. The two members of the band, Jeremy and Elizabeth – who are, incidentally, engaged – started by unexpectedly appearing in the middle of the small audience with an acoustic guitar (at first I thought this might have been an overzealous fan trying to outdo the band), and they proceeded to walk through the crowd to the stage, all the while performing a sparse acoustic version of the opening song of their debut album ‘Better off Without You’. Anyone who’s listened to the band will testify that their music is anything but sparse, and once they reached the stage they deftly transformed it into a synthy, layered delight. Feelings of melancholy were channeled in the song ‘Done Forever’ as Sankey sang sincerely about a past relationship with both sadness and optimism.
The band’s fascination with retro-stylings added another element to the approach of the band both aesthetically and within the content of the songs themselves. Behind Sankey, visuals of various 70s/80s teenage coming-of-age films (including a fresh faced John Cusack) played, and samples of these films could be heard in the music too (such as the beginning of the wild, almost obsessive passion of ‘I Want You’). The song’s simplicity and catchiness coupled with the lyrical content of unrequited love and romanticism evoked the essence of Northern Soul singles with their compelling, ear-worm choruses of love and longing from the sixties.
Despite the innocent surroundings of a library the band played with played with the intention of putting on a loud, blistering performance. This was epitomised by the distorted brash guitar sounds of Jeremy Warmsley who channeled the clichéd but by no means redundant rock’n’roll spirit to make this unassuming library in Lancaster at times feel like CBGB’s in New York circa 1977.
The chemistry between Sankey and Warmsley was clear to be seen when they shared a microphone to sing the final song ‘I Want You’ together. Almost all of Summer Camp’s songs revolve around a yearning for love and affection, and for the songs to be appreciated one only has to witness live the tenderness reciprocated between the two on stage.
When Summer Camp finished an enthusiastic cheer filled this normally silent library from a gratified and entertained crowd. Despite the absence of an encore (understandable considering their small amount of material) Summer Camp emerged almost instantaneously after leaving the stage to assume position at their merchandise table to meet and sign copies of their album ‘Welcome to Condale’ with an appreciative crowd.