There was a distinctly religious feeling to proceedings when Watford based trio, The Staves, played at Bournemouth's Old Fire Station last weekend. It wasn't just that the Staveley-Taylor sisters were performing on a Sunday night ahead of a sold-out Roundhouse show in London. It was the hushed and reverent nature of the audience and the occasionally angelic voices enveloping them from the stage that gave the evening a heavenly feeling.
Those in attendance wondering whether The Staves could re-create the magic of their recent Justin Vernon produced album were not left disappointed. An impressive array of musicians accompanied The Staves throughout, and in a live setting the brass and synth flourishes packed a real punch. Showcasing their trademark harmonies early on, the band launched into a satisfyingly anthemic rendition of 'Black & White' during their opening salvo. The historic room was bathed in colour and the audience of around 500 people was illuminated for the guitar heavy track, which perfectly illustrates how far The Staves have progressed since their debut album in 2012.
Throwing in the odd quip and observation, there is a certain irony to the use of smoke machines in an old Fire Station, the trio swiftly rattled through a comprehensive selection from their recorded output. More obscure choices like 'America' were accompanied by a good chunk of recent album If I Was. Along the way there was also room for a hypnotic cover of Bombay Bicycle Club's 'Feel'. In truth the most impressive moment was during 'Let Me Down' in the middle of the set. The song builds to an aural avalanche of looped harmonies under the lead vocal. I was unsure that in a live setting their studio experimentation would have quite the same impact, but with the help of loop pedals the band demonstrated that they could rise to the challenge.
The main set concluded with a delicate version of 'Damn It All', which exploded into a defiant call to arms in its final third. The band then joked they had nowhere off-stage to go, so the crowd improvised an encore chant while the trio bowed, no doubt slightly overwhelmed by the positive reaction in a small seaside town on a wet and windy Sunday night. What followed was two surprises; a member of the audience being beckoned on stage to propose to his girlfriend (she said yes) and a newly penned song, 'Tired As F**k'. The latter features a dark and brooding bass line and an apocalyptic crescendo of brass and strings. It sounds even more experimental than anything on If I Was, indicating that the band could evolve as dramatically as Radiohead did over the course of their first three albums.
The religious undercurrent to proceedings may well have been prompted by the reverence of the crowd and a surprise proposal on stage, but as the audience left following 'Teeth White' I couldn't help but feel like I'd had a shared experience with a congregation of sorts. The Staveley-Taylor sisters may be able to impress in a studio and on record, but they can also deliver on stage. Their voices were flawless and there really is no-other band touring the UK at the moment that sounds quite like this. That bodes well for the future and if they continue to pick up support slots with the likes of Florence Welch I'm confident that they'll be playing even bigger venues than this in a town near you soon.
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