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LIVE REPORT: Cate Le Bon
Rich Hughes , February 14th, 2014 11:42

Rich Hughes gets a set of raucous retro-pop at The Junction in Cambridge. Photographs courtesy of Valerio Berdini

"Welcome to the Mug Museum" is all I manage to translate from my mother tongue - I am incredibly rusty and was never a native Welsh speaker - but, thankfully, for the general audience, if not just myself, we get a translation. The announcement asked if the audience could be respectful to the band and not take photos during the set - if you wanted a memento for yourself, or to send to someone, there are postcards in the foyer.

This is Cambridge, however, and the crowd are, if even more so than usual, very respectful of Le Bon throughout the evening. But I don't think it was primarily down to the pre-gig message. Where, on record, Le Bon's style mines that familiar Welsh seam of retro-pop, in a live setting it's a much more raucous event. The set focusses on recent album Mug Museum, but its clean pop sounds get scuffed at the edges. And this is no bad thing - it's what is so intriguing about her music generally - just when you think she's crafted a perfectly pretty pop song, it changes shape. Live, it's a fractious guitar riff or discordant keyboard refrain that rips through that pop sound. On record, these elements are more subtle and delicate. Irrespective of setting, they ensure you never know which direction Le Bon is going to take next. It's easy to see why Gruff Rhys signed her to his label for her debut album: he'd found a fellow believer in schizoid pop. This dual personality is probably a reflection of Le Bon herself - her cooly restrained on-stage persona gives way occasionally to the primal call of the music and losing herself in the noise.

This live energy is in no small part down to her selection of band members for this touring band. H.Hawkline provides harmonies, additional guitars and keyboard work - cutting suave lines of off-beat riffs and the occasional noise, whilst Sweet Baboo (a successful artist in his own right) adds cultured bass and additional vocals. But it's all driven by the crisp and rolling drums of Kiwi Daniel Ward. It's tight and focused on leader Le Bon's exceptional vocals - nonchalant and icy, they can, in a single song, begin with flowing harmonies before reaching high, wailing notes, while her guitar work is razor sharp, crackling and fizzing with energy.

The compact crowd in the intimate surroundings of The Junction 2 come away with memories that are different to what they might have expected. Whether Le Bon, now based on the US West Coast rather than the Wild West of Wales, will channel this louder and noisier sound into her next album, time will tell, but as a band, I've seen few better.

Diolch.

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