Live Review: Lau

James Redburn 14 November 2012

Lau – The Junction, Cambridge

Lau play the kind of music that you’d want as your soundtrack as you trek through dramatic British countryside, both relaxing and inspiring at the same time. They write songs about tiny, uninhabited (except for cows) Scottish islands, Torsa. They combine the accordion, the guitar and the fiddle with some exquisite vocals and a dash of loop-pedal to create a truly unique sound. They spent the interval doing a crossword. Rock and Roll this is not, but an absolutely stunning performance it most certainly is.

Tonight’s event, comprised of two hour-long sets by the virtuosic folk group with no support act, is an all-seated affair but, for accordionist Martin and fiddle-player Aidan, this almost proves too difficult, as, eyes closed in musical ecstasy, they twitch and rock their bodies so violently that they very nearly tumble off their chairs onto the stage.

These three guys didn’t win the BBC’s ‘Folk Band of the Year’ award three years in a row for nothing – their musicianship is absolutely incredible. Martin frequently plays the accordion one-handed whilst reaching over to the piano or fiddling mysteriously with the knobs on a computer with his other hand. Kris, guitarist and lead vocalist, flips his guitar onto its back and starts playing with a slide in the middle of Horizontigo, a song which is introduced with the proviso that it was inspired by the fact that Kris ‘gets ill’ when he’s around flat countryside for too long.

The songs, too, are incredibly complex musical constructions, with conventional structures sacrificed to make way for constantly evolving harmonic progressions, frequent changes of key and time signature and some startling textural jumps, from solo fiddle to full on folk-breakdown. So unorthodox are their tunes that, at one particularly texturally sparse moment, the audience begin to pre-emptively applaud the end of the song just as Kris plucks an extra few notes and the whole thing starts moving again.

Their final song of the evening, Hinba, is the only one which elicits even a smattering of recognition from the crowd but this is by no means due to a lack of appreciation. Lau are not the kind of band you go and see to sing your heart out, they are the Liszts of the 21-st century, wowing audiences wherever they go with their individual talents and their collective instincts, which combine to produce a very special brand of folk.

James Redburn