It is one of those gigs remembering and paying homage to a talent no longer with us, Nick Drake in this case. It could be wonderful, it could be disastrous. I am not fanatical about Nick Drake, I hope the evening will help me learn more about his music. I learn that Drake was a minimalist, he really would not have wanted anything more than his guitar to express his music. So in a way the set up tonight is far too baroque to his taste, but I believe he might have appreciated the new arrangements should he have lived to be an elderly man, though sadly, he did not even make it long enough to join the 27 Club. The band onstage is unconventional, it is not a rock’n’roll set up, it is a chamber music orchestra accompanied by 3 singers alternating on stage, a super long lectern with the lyrics in front of them. Brian Lopez, formerly of Giant Sand, is one of the singers, together with Midlake voice and guitarist Eric Pulido and Mark Gardener of Ride.
The orchestra was started in France and made up by international, classically trained musicians with a taste for contemporary music. On stage tonight, the arrangements are impressive, the full orchestra is involved, no instrument is the diva, it is a group effort, though it is true that Alexei Khorev the classic guitarist has his work cut for him today, given the ever-changing tunings and unconventional Drake’s playing style.
Tucson based Lopez’s appearance is self-assured, almost mean, the heavy, dark, Latino jewellery nudges us in that direction, but in contrast with his tough image his singing is beautiful and particularly poignant during Fruit Tree a song apparently expressing Drake’s bitterness being a forgotten talent, unappreciated by the world. Beardy Pulido by comparison appears candid in his unpretentious appearance, clearly uncomfortable without his guitar “take his guitar away from a man and he feels naked”, but his singing voice is beautiful and fragile, a personal high for Pulido the rendition of Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink Moon. The last on stage is Mark Gardener equally as nervous though the perfect gentleman in his hat and scarf and totally made to sing Nick Drake’s songs, including many fan’s favourite Northern Sky.
Altogether the performance is delicate and forceful, the singers are respectful in their interpretation, the orchestra simply nails it. When we leave the venue, we bring home a feeling of awe and serenity, enchantment and sadness.
5 December 2016: The Color Bars Experience playing Nick Drake, Islington Assembly Hall, London