Live: The Provincial Archive at The Islington

The final stop on The Prov’s European tour finds them just off Upper Street in London on a wet and windy May evening. They’re fresh from time on the continent (Germany in particular, where their new album, “It’s All Shaken Wonder”, has already been released) and, more recently, in Cardiff, Bristol and Folkestone (a thumbs up to all). The next morning they’re heading home to Edmonton, Alberta, driving to Amsterdam to board their flight back. You should be able to get hold of “It’s All …” later on this year when it will be released more widely.

Despite the dampness and the relative chill of this Bank Holiday evening, the band are in fine voice.  There’s a palpable sense of fun in their demeanour and bounce in their playing.  Bassist Pud in particular is a charming presence – facial expressions reminiscent of Jeremy Piven combined with some of the wryly-grinning, insouciant cool of Buffy’s Oz.  The stage is dramatically draped with deep red curtains and, a few minor monitor issues aside, their set is terrific.

They kick off with a couple of numbers from the new record: “Daisy Garden” to open (also off their current EP “Hide Like A Secret”), followed by “Full Of Water”.  They both rock harder than the songs from 2010’s “Maybe We Could Be Holy”, something that frontman Craig Schram told us was a conscious choice.  They’re also a whole lot louder and rockier as a live proposition (they temporarily disable the monitors halfway through). Schram’s voice, and the backing vocals of Pud, drummer Bram Park and keyboardist Nathan Burge (also the (enthusiastic) driver throughout the tour), all seem to have greater range and power on stage.  A special mention to Bram’s drumming, which I thought was electric throughout.

“Up next is “Common Cards”, by now a relatively old number (released as a single last year) but also on the new LP.  Sometimes I feel like the outro is a bit long but I like these guys so much that it’s only a passing concern. Schram does at least clear one thing up – this song is about trading baseball cards, which I guess I perhaps ought to have guessed at before.  When I reviewed it last year it seemed so imbued with threat and paranoia.  Perhaps I would feel the same as a real fan of the sport, “terrified of losing to a wealthy hand”.

There’s a solo interlude as Schram, just guitar and voice, implores us to imagine ourselves in summery, dusty fields “dreaming of early love, and land machines”.  It’s a stark but pretty tune, with the spell only partially broken by some fans incapable of whispering.  I think I prefer the live treatment to that on the LP, although there’s plenty of time for the added banjo and harmonies to persuade me otherwise.

With that, we’re into a couple of oldies, beginning with the high melancholy of “Trading Thrills” and ending with “I’m A Believer !”, the product, Schram informs us, of a conversation with his Dad in the wake of some Christian programming.  Lovely as they both are I think you can just about tell that the band are more excited about the newer songs around them.  There’s just a touch less passion in the delivery and a mite less energy in the body language.

The set closes with a final new tune in “Bad Kids”.  I was initially disappointed, and confessed such to the band after the show, but it turned out pretty well: “Bad Kids” is awesome and getting much repeated play at home.  In fact, as much as I had wanted “Weight And Sea” I have to concede that this was exactly the right way to end a set: on a fast, thrilling high.  I’ve forgiven them for the meanness of warming up with snatches of my (previous ?) favourite track…

On this basis I hope they’ll visit these shores again soon and be given the space to deliver a fuller set.  There’s no question that they’ve got the songs and the charisma to do it.

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