Live Review: Electric Soft Parade/Julien Bouchard – Flat Sessions, Fallais, Belgium. 03/05/2018

A former cow shed in the Belgian countryside isn’t every band’s idea of a dream booking, but with London venues closing in their droves, savvy artists now need to look further afield (ouch!), and they could do a lot worse than chez Calo and Murielle in the pastoral village of Fallais. From modest beginnings, these monthly sessions are now starting to attract increasingly prominent artists. The deal is simple; the takings from the reasonable door charge (€8 – €10) are whacked out between the bands and the hosts make a small profit from beer sales. With a capacity of around a hundred, an intimate atmosphere is guaranteed, and tonight there was a full house of local villagers, musos and hep young cats from the city.

French singer-songwriter Julien Bouchard kicked things off with some evocative, stripped down numbers. It’s amazing how people who can sit through a five-course banquet in stony silence, burst into loud animated conversation at the sight of an acoustic guitar, but the irritating hubbub took nothing away from the heartfelt performance. Accompanied by an electric guitarist who added subtle solos and backing vocals, the no-frills decor of the barn made it all about the music, and it was a fine start to proceedings.

Electric Soft Parade. You know the name, band from the noughties, had some albums out? Melodic guitar pop. Those were my preconceptions, and I was slapped roundly about the head with them, as the band before me fired through a set of Beatles-esque baroque pop, neo-psychedelic anthems and sizzling instrumental passages. The harmonies were exquisite, the orchestration dazzling, the arrangements super-tight, and the melodies achingly rich and evocative. At times they channelled the psychedelic whimsy of Syd Barrett, the Floydian angst of Porcupine Tree, the melancholic mystique of Air and the tuneful balladry of Wilco, whilst simultaneously being themselves. The years-honed sound hypnotised the crowd, who stood slack-jawed in disbelief at the sonic mastery reverberating around such humble surroundings. Bands this on top of their game have the ability to be totally relaxed yet deliver knock-out punches with every riff. They were clearly having fun, and it was a joy to watch musicians so at home with their craft that they can lark about a bit, even showboat at times, but still never drop a stitch. It’s no easy task for any band being this good but ESP made it look effortless. It’s a travesty that they are not as enormous as the flaccid big-names they’ve bolstered over the years, so if they’re coming your way don’t miss them or you’ll never forgive yourself.

The Flat Sessions by their nature (no stage door…no stage for that matter) lend themselves to an interaction between band and audience that extends beyond the performance, so after the show the group mingled and chatted with the people in the starlit field outside, amongst the trees, donkeys, chickens and cats, and much fine Belgian beer was quaffed. Someday all music will be made this way. You know it makes sense.

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