The humble but generously-sized Cheese and Grain in Frome is the setting for tonight’s show, where the headline act are folk-punk legends the Levellers. The Brighton group’s music has always combined their more organic influences with a harder edge, and tonight’s choice of support acts reflect that. Up first is a warmly-received local folk duo, featuring a vocalist with typically rich tones, going down rather well with the slowly-growing crowd. The tougher, grittier aspects of the Levellers are reflected in their other choice of support act, in this instance the excellent Bristol-based multi-instrumentalist Laura Kidd, aka She Makes War.
The first time I stumbled across SMW was back in 2013 when she provided a warm-up for Suede on their ‘Bloodsports’ tour. With effective use of instrumentation and FX pedals, Kidd had the stage to herself as she played a hugely impressive set. When I saw her again the following year, the set-up was the same but the music seemed to have more colour.
This time she is backed by a drummer and a bassist, who complete a lean, mean live unit, and add even more raw vigour to these tracks in their live incarnations. Last year’s Indie Album Chart hit ‘Brace For Impact’ saw the development of SMW’s penchant for sulky, bratty guitars and explosive choruses, while the other half of the LP delved into more dynamic, introspective areas. (Review HERE)
Naturally, tonight’s half-hour set includes a number of its songs, but key tracks from Kidd’s three previous albums are not left out in the cold. A good job too, since the opening ‘Drown Me Out’ from 2016’s ‘Direction Of Travel’ still sits at the very top of the She Makes War catalogue, a tantalising mixture of brooding intensity and masterful vocal melodies that seems to build with each line.
From that same LP is the snarling ‘Cold Shoulder’, which is bolstered by thunderous drums and sharp vitriol, while the newer ‘Undone’ brings to mind a female-fronted Nirvana: shadowy and melodic to the core. Written a decade ago, the wonderful ‘Slow Puncture’ was the song that first brought SMW to people’s attention, and has a certain impact which has definitely grown over time.
‘Fortify’ is another ‘Brace For impact’ song that gets an airing, however, its atmospherics and spacious subtleties seem to lose the attention of the crowd, most of who are clearly waiting patiently to jump around to the Levellers. It may have fallen a little flat in this setting, but there’s no doubting its solemn, mesmerising beauty. Theresa May and her cronies are dealt with on the storming ‘I Want My Country Back’, an infectious alt-rock protest against British media being used to spread right-wing propaganda, and the sort of attitudes that got the UK into the current mess. The awesome single ‘Devastate Me’ closes the set on a high with its raging Pixies-like chorus and earworm riffage, with the vocals sounding immaculate.
A great vocalist? Yes. A great songwriter? Indeed. A great musician? Certainly. Tonight confirms that She Makes War and her band are also brilliant live as well.