17th February | Louisiana
If you were listening from outside the door of the Louisiana’s upstairs venue, you’d probably have thought you heard two very similar bands. Both acts had male/female vocal leads, alternating tracks and harmonising together. Both acts seemed to have influence from folk and psychedelic rock, from the greats of the 1960s and 1970s. But the atmospheric distance between Gun Outfit, an LA band who seem on the cusp of international success, and of local favourites, Snails, could not have been more pronounced.
Gun Oufit’s music borrows a late-70s Fleetwood Mac feel, daubing layers of psychedelic guitar over a quite traditional country foundation. This blend of genres lends an innate coolness that is unforced and steeped in dusty Americana, like John Wayne experimenting with mescaline. Their songs, though not poppy enough to ever truly be catchy, are sustained by evident technical proficiency and have all the hallmarks of a band with a long innings. Unfortunately, though, their stage presence also has a little of the feeling of Fleetwood Mac. But more like the 80s Fleetwood Mac, when they were all a little weary of touring together. Even in the intimate warmth of the Louisiana, one of Bristol’s finest and best-attended venues, there was an absence of warmth on stage.
There is no doubt that Gun Outfit have accrued a strong collection of songs, and their latest album feels like a step up to a higher plain, but there was little visible interplay or affection between the band members, and at the end of their set, they even seemed a little exasperated by the request for an encore. They may have been worn down by a lengthy tour, or could simply be a quintet of shy introverts, but a certain communication felt lost in the intricacies of their songs, bursting with sophisticated literary and mythological allusions. Gun Outfit were quick to show us some brain, but their soul was not so readily displayed.
They offer a twofer in the contrasting styles of the two lead singers. Carrie Keith seems to be responsible for the country component in the band, with a vocal clarity characteristic of singers like Sheryl Crow and Bobbie Gentry. She looks around furtively as she sings, at her bandmates and at the crowd, and seems far closer to shyness than loftiness. Dylan Sharp, the band’s other singer and lead songwriter, is quite the opposite. He is engrossed in what he plays, and sings with the loosely-formed words and laid-back stylings of another Courtney Barnett or a Kurt Vile. With his references in interviews to the band’s “puritanical decadence” and of Samuel Beckett as a band influence, it’s hard to marry what may be potentially intellectual bluster with his irrefutable musical talent.
This could not have been less comparable to the opening act, Snails, who spent plenty of time debating where the seismic epicentre of that day’s freak earthquake had been. Snails present a much less cinematic, and a notably British nerdiness in their pretty wonderful selection of songs. Their sound was simple and effective, and felt like it could have been freshly grown in an allotment by your favourite neighbour. Their earnest lyrics and well-matched voices complimented the forthright songwriting approach and earnest positivity. With the instrumental texture of Belle & Sebastian, cut with a shy optimism akin to Gregory’s Girl, Snails’ joy at the act of performance is infectious, and their affection for one another is palpable. Their music may have been more of a shuffle than a dance, but it was good music performed well, and their 60s psych sound, definitely more Costello than Presley, proved charming and unabashedly fun.