Live acts tend to only be as good as the context in which they’re heard; any number of factors can stifle or embellish the impact of a live show and This Is The Kit’s appearance at Brighton’s Concorde 2 is to some degree an illustration of this. On record, bandleader Kate Stables’ songs are – more often than not – subtle, nuanced and at times even fragile. In the right live context such delicacies can work a treat, but the cavernous Concorde 2 is perhaps not the ideal venue for such quiet music.
Indeed, “quiet” is a word that keeps coming to mind during the band’s 55 minute set – although the hushed emanations of Stables‘ songs are a huge part of what make them so powerful, the band are simply too quiet tonight – not in the tonality of their performance but simply in the low volume coming from the speakers. It’s not a misjudgement from the band’s end but rather from those handling the sound for the audience; regardless it does hamper tonight’s show and, to some degree, lessens the plentiful impact that the band could well have had if the sonics had simply been gutsier.
The performance itself does raise the question of how suited Stables’ songs are to the larger, more impersonal venues she’s now playing. ‘Moonshine Freeze’ is one of this year’s most quietly superlative folk albums and, perhaps conversely, it’s often the album’s most subtle songs that leave the biggest impression. During tonight’s performance, however, it’s the louder, more groove-centric material that really dazzles. It’s when the band play the excellent ‘Earthquake’ from 2010’s ‘Wriggle Out The Restless’ that they really hit their stride, and it’s a sense of momentum that’s carried throughout the rest of the show.
The set’s pacing could perhaps do with some refinement, Stables choosing to open her set with the sort of sparse solo-banjo-and-vocal affair better suited to a mid-set placing once the audience has settled into the unique ambience of her work. As with ‘Earthquake’, it’s when the band take things up a couple of notches and let loose as with the punchy indie-folk of ‘Hotter Colder’ or the groove-heavy ‘Cold Getting Colder’ from 2015’s ‘Bashed Out’ that they really prove their considerable worth.
Musicianship is generally loose during the early portions of tonight’s set; that’s no bad thing in itself but the odd fluffed chord stands out like a sore thumb on such quiet material and though an overly tight performance may rob the songs of some of their relaxed charm, the band perhaps take things too far in the other direction. From a purely instrumental perspective, it’s Rozi Plain’s deeply melodic bass work that stands out tonight, proving a sturdy anchor both melodically and rhythmically to what may have otherwise felt loose to the point of slightly disorganised.
Under more favourable conditions – a smaller venue and a better sound engineer – they band would likely have shone. As it is, the overall impression of This Is The Kit’s visit to Brighton is unmistakably a positive one and the crystalline power of Stables’ songs is one that begs to be experienced live. When the band focuses on the sprightlier moments of their discography, they excel – not because their quieter ruminations disappoint but simply because the intrinsic resilience of such moments struggles to fully convey itself to such large audiences. Had the band focused more heavily on their sprightlier, more propulsive tracks and leaned less towards the subtleties of Stables’ most delicate work, the setlist would doubtless have better suited the cavernous venue.
If fault were to be directed at tonight’s show, then, it would not be for the songs – which are always excellent and not infrequently fantastic – but rather that the band didn’t tailor their performance to the large size of the venue as well as they could have. It’s doubtless a learning curve, however, and the next time that This Is The Kit play Brighton (no doubt in an even larger room, seeing as Stables’ star is certainly on the ascendant) they’ll hopefully pace their set more wisely and also adjust the mood from the quietly inflected nuances of their softer material to focus instead on the more energetic grooves of their most swiftly paced moments. Regardless of where This Is The Kit go next, however, their live show even now leaves a positive impression and is certainly worth experiencing for those taken in by the group’s quietly persuasive charms.