Go Norwich! For a small provincial city we sometimes punch above our weight when it comes to live music. Thanks to some great independent venues (the dreaded O2 venue stranglehold has not yet reached out to Norfolk. In fact, it's all we can do to get a mobile phone signal at all in much of the county), I can proudly say that in the last year I have been able to see 6 out of 12 of last year's Mercury Music Prize nominees play in Norwich.
To be fair, Florence and the Machine and Slaves were at Radio 1's Big Weekend, which doesn't come to Norwich every year, but Slaves did play at our beloved Owl Sanctuary not so long before. Wolf Alice re-visited the UEA, Gaz Coombes graced Open, and the lovely Eska and SOAK gigged at Norwich Arts Centre. And now, to make it seven, Glaswegian bedroom maestro C Duncan brings a live band to NAC in a show originally scheduled for February of this year.
It is a Sunday night, and we are not always good at getting to venues in time to see support acts, but Essex singer-songwriter Kevin Pearce has played here before (he supported Scott Matthews a couple of years ago), so knows what to expect. He peers into the dark void and thanks us for coming to "tonight's intimate performance". He introduces each number, and laces each one with a dry comment that might have come straight off the page of an Alas Smith and Jones routine. Come to think of it, if you morphed younger versions of Mel Smith and Gryff Rhys Jones into one, the result would look not unlike Kevin Pearce. I actually like his voice (which can alternately sound like Cat Stevens, James Skelly (The Coral), and Wild Beasts' Ben Little), and his material, especially the up-tempo Lucifer the Landlord, and the new single Maria Come Home, really justifies further listens. A cover of Amy Winehouse's Back to Black, is jaw-droppingly beautiful. I check the shrapnel in my pocket, though, and decide that another pint takes precedence over buying an album off the tattooed lady on the merch table.
Even though I have heard the album Architect a gazillion times since its launch last summer, I still wasn't quite sure what to expect from a live show. Bedroom opuses from multi-instrumentalists and computer whizzes can occasionally transfer on stage into exercises in controlling tape loops and samples. Either that or, in spite of assembling a talented band, the live sound disappoints when compared with the familiarity of the recorded product. It's almost a no-win situation.
Also, I am slightly caught off guard when the band come on stage, and I initially mistake the shorter and slimmer figure of keyboard player Finn McCardel (who does not look unlike earlier press photos of 'Mr C') as being the main man. In fact, it is the sleeveless jumper-clad guitarist in the middle who welcomes us and launches into Say, the familiar opening track from the album. Not that I am the only one who is confused tonight. Mr C (no, fuck it, let's call him Christopher), Christopher is convinced that he has played Norwich before, supporting Lucy Rose last year. It takes a brave, and confident, Finn to put him right.
I am glad to say that the auditorium has, by now, filled out, and we are treated to an audacious live run through of nine out of the twelve tracks from Architect, each one transcribed beautifully into a score for keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. The vocal harmonies are gorgeous, re-awakening all those review comparisons with Fleet Foxes, and the little string of lights along the front of the stage does almost create a rustic woodland ambiance (if you ignore the giant album cover projected to the rear). Yes, the purists will spot differences between the live show and the recorded versions, but it would be a harsh critic who tried to claim that they were less complete for having a couple of layers peeled away or re-imagined. There is one slight hiccough when a laptop does not synch properly, but it was far less painful than the two jokes proffered by way of a diversion. Otherwise, the entire set is seamless, even if the arrangement of I'll Be Gone By Winter sounded awfully Christmassy for mid-April.
A cover of the Cocteau Twins' Pearly Dewdrops-Drops is sandwiched in by way of a personal tribute, and two new tracks, Do I Hear? and I Lost are also found room for. Old B-side Castle Walls is offered by way of a closing encore. Something by way of a landmark for C Duncan and Co to look out for as a reminder on their next visit to Norwich?