Over 20 years and about 10 studio albums later and we’ve come down to this. The Cranes appearing in a fairly small venue room in the East End. The last time this reviewer saw them was on an open air stage in Hyde Park as part of a mini festival fronted by The Cure. Alison and Jim Shaw with the rest of their band had absolutely zero problems holding that crowd and put in a powerhouse performance which ended with the drum-kit getting nearly trashed in an extended rendition of ‘Adrift.’
So why such a low key event? And the only UK date on this tour as well?
Sadly there were problems aplenty for the band to face: Delays, Sound checks being cut short, a few stumbled starts (thanks to said sound check) and a loud and boisterous crowd to contend with at the beginning. Of course everyone in the crowd becomes a sound expert, and much to the annoyance of Jim Shaw (stuck in a very unflattering spot to the left side of the stage surrounded by wires and bars) who rightly manages to vent his frustration by asking for a bit of patience. The Bassist seems trapped in darkness on the right side of the stage leaving slightly more room for the remainder of the band. And of course front and centre is Alison Shaw. With all the chaos around her this evening you’d half expect her to look slightly out of sorts. Even after having to shush her Sibling.
The beauty of Alison Shaw is that you pretty much get what you see and hear. On disc, as powerful and original as her voice is, she comes over as a fragile figure. On stage again, her voice not having any problems reaching the right target, she still is a petite figure who is always very thankful for any remote praise that is pointed their way. And in person she always seems to have time to talk with fans, and even bothersome journalists. Again very thankful, thoughtful and generous in her own way. This writer at one point almost knocked her over in a doorway when barging through. And her response was to step aside and offer the way through and even apologize for being in the way! (That’s one way to set in Instant Guilt). Someone this cute you just know sleeps on cotton wool inside a matchbox.
Despite their set backs and the odd idiot audience member, the Cranes get on with it and for all the shortcomings of the venue they put in a good performance. They play some new material that seems to come over very well. ‘Feathers’ taken from the new self titled album is indeed a highlight. Of course they play some career highlights and favorites as well. Anything that appeared on the ‘Forever’ and ‘Loved’ albums gets a huge response. The band manages to be as avant-garde as ever, echoing and spiraling experimentation all wrapped up in a dreamlike (and sometimes nightmarish) soundscape.
The only disadvantage at being too near the front is the electronic drum-kit. Standing too near you can actually hear the sound of plastic cymbals being hit instead of the sound it sends out through the speakers. This is more of a drawback on the quieter and mellow tunes. But anything involving a crescendo (again, ‘Adrift’ being the obvious example) works just fine. This song is commonly associated as the number they finish on (and if you know it then it is obvious why). The band linger a short while after for a few more songs including ‘Paris and Rome’ which tingles the crowd the moment it starts.
So it’s all praise to a band who have endured probably not their most favorite gig. It is also to their credit that they strived on in good humor. Hardly a fitting event for the end of a tour for such a wonderfully eclectic band, but it’s a night they won over anyway. If anything fans left with even more respect for them.