In a small room, at the top of The Lexington, on Pentonville Road, London, James Levy and Allison Pierce played their only London gig on the tour. This probably explains why the place was wall to wall music journos and the ‘hipsters’ of the London music scene. And then….there was me. An interesting, and intimate venue, with little seating, velvet wallpaper, chairs, and a glitter ball bang right in the centre. Nineteen hundreds, or nineteen seventies, I wasn’t quite sure. To be honest, I was so enthused about this gig that I could barely contain myself. The album ‘Pray to Be Free’ is a gorgeous record, with influences of Nick Cave, Neil Young and good old country and western shining through. James Levy has a unique voice, and it intermingles with Allison Pierces voice….perfectly. I was expecting a lot from the live performance, and I would have got it, if the sound at The Lexington had been better.
Opening with the single ‘Sneak Into My Room’ was a bold choice, I noticed minutes before Allison informing the sound guys to turn her microphone up, they did….too much. Her voice is cool, clear and precise, but it was drowning out James’ vocals throughout the track. As the gig progressed though, the sound was evened out, and both performers became more comfortable on stage. The songs then came rolling out, very little was spoken between tracks, as they decided to focus on the music than interaction with the audience…which during a mere 45 minute set is understandable. ‘Hung To Dry’ one of my favourites on the album was blindingly good as was ‘Pray To Be Free’ and ‘Bums in Love’ When the song ‘Precious Age of 13’ came on some of the audience began to look a tad bit confused. Had they not listened to the whole album? James lyrics in Hebrew are an added treat to the song, and he sung them with emotion and precision.
One of the highlights of the show for me was the use of the Flugelhorn. Yes, you read that right, a Flugelhorn. Neither trumpet, nor tenor horn [I played both at school….very badly] it was great to see a ‘horn section’ used in such eclectic songs and to great advantage. Just a man, and his horn, so to speak! If it appears I haven’t mentioned Allison Pierce enough, I apologise. When James levy said “There is a beautiful, knowing quality to Allison’s voice. She understands where the songs come from.” He wasn’t exaggerating. There is a yearning in her voice that melds perfectly with James, and at times they seemed to be singing the songs to each other and with the banter and friendship they obviously have on stage and off, it makes for a great collaboration. They ended as they had started, unassuming, and humble, but it was as if they didn’t quite reach their potential on stage that night. I’m not sure if it was the venue, the audience [who were fairly subdued bar one enthusiastic thirty something guy at the front swaying and bopping to every song] or the far from perfect sound. Please let there be a next time, and please give me Kings College as a venue, and a full sixty minutes of these beautiful songs. Go on…for me.