Acoustic soul kicks us off tonight with local up and comer Sarah Connolly and her blend of introspective, folk-tinged, song writing. Offering a display of considerable potential Connolly takes us into her world and holds us tightly amongst narratives which are equal parts optimism to doubt.
Doubling up as a launch event for his second album ‘Aethreal’, second act, ‘The Aether’ is up next which a show taking us on a folk-heavy tour of his psyche. Interesting, explorative, and brave Aether’s tracks match complex acoustic guitar work with searching narratives as he trips us across soundscape enriched by his emotive falsetto vocals. Highlights including ‘Renegade’ and ‘Chelsea’ showcase Aether’s song writing style of avoiding simple choices, instead often playing with time and extending the songs in places others may have taken us to the hook earlier in. These are interesting choices for an interesting artist clearly seeking for his music to be accessible, but also choosing originality over commerciality. Soaring optimism followed by dark concerns piece together in a set that feels like an invitation to the reading of a private journal. Enchanting the crowd from the off it feels tonight as though The Aether’s choices, and bravery, truly paid off.
Headlining, and closing the evening, Joel Baker manages well in following impressive performances from our two opening acts, as well as shifting the atmosphere of the crowd to fit with his soul-centred sound. Encouraging greater crowd participation than Connolly and The Aether, Baker’s responsibility this evening is to, at times, provide a safety net to the audience whilst asking them for silence during his more personal moments. Highly capable of managing a sold-out audience Baker rattles of his impressive repertoire with moments of solo guitar introspection (‘What’s a song’, ‘Bag of dreams’) before at times bringing out the beat-box and effects pedals for livelier, more technical, moments (‘’Catch Me When I Fall’). Tending to be more optimistic on the synthisised moments, and more introspective in the solo work, Baker’s sound is consistently varied and truthful; a factor which encourages engagement and respect from the audience.
A recent, 2016, signing to Virgin Records as well as last years ‘Winter Dreams’ EP and it’s successful ‘Rupi Kaur’ track suggests that Baker’s work is catching on and with support from a major label it may push his towards becoming a household name. Whether that turns out to happen or not, Baker should be proud of his song writing, his performance and his ability to capture and hold an audience’s attention.
The Surf Café more often than not get it right when they put on an evening and they did that again tonight. Next time though, can we have a little more space? All the audience participation isn’t always great for personal space.