Stornoway – Exeter Phoenix (Live Review)

Rating:

A farewell tour is always going to carry a significant amount of emotion and poignancy. Similarly however, it also carries a weighty quantity of pressure. Get it wrong and you risk ending your career in a fiery ball of tragedy; but get it right and you’re mourned and cherished for a noteworthy amount of time, with your fans begging for a reunion.

Now, despite Stornoway not being the most renowned band in existence, their send-off tour carried all of these similar stresses and expectancies. Yet with bated breath, I was eager to wave them off at one of their final gigs and see what surprises they had in store.

Opening the event were Brasstronaut, a fusion of pop, rock, and jazz, hailing from Vancouver. With an intention to get the audience up and moving, the band launched into a selection of songs that were energetic, bold, and addictive. Teasing the bulky crowd with a variety of aberrant instruments (trumpet, clarinet, EWI) the group were a demonstration of what creative spirits can achieve when they’re thrust together. To me they were a worthy support slot, setting the tone for an evening of intrigue, fun, and body-moving goodness. Even I was dancing, which is a small miracle in itself!

With the shady venue wedged full of expectant faces, it wasn’t long before Stornoway emerged upon the stage preceded by an atmospheric violin player. It was evident that they envisioned a euphoric gig indeed, but unfortunately that wasn’t how events transpired.

The indie band evidently possess a close bond with one another, and this was demonstrated throughout their set as they harmonised beautifully both vocally and instrumentally. Yet as the evening moved forwards it was clear that something was missing from the combined group effort: emotion.

Now, no criticism can be made upon frontman Brian Briggs’ intentions, for his stage presence was domineering, passionate, and discernible. But the remainder of the group seemed to be lacking in that department, giving a substandard 60% of their effort to their endeavours, which was disappointing at best. This was their farewell tour after all, and I expected gooseflesh from the reflective, lyrically-strong songs that have given them status!

There were highpoints however, and they presented themselves when a trio of acoustic songs were gifted to the eager audience. Led by Briggs November Song was performed, stirring up a concoction of amorous emotions and casting a heavy atmosphere throughout the venue. Following this was an delicate rendition of Josephine, demonstrating the band’s visible talent for harmonic vocal melodies. Finally, I thought to myself. This brief segment was exactly what was needed.

Critically however, though the remainder of the gig was nice, it certainly wasn’t particularly memorable, with my attention frittering as songs merged into one long expanse of time. It was beautiful, but obvious; moving, but calculated; and it certainly fell flat in terms of collective expressiveness.

I wish the members of Stornoway every inch of luck in their future endeavours, but as much as it pains me to say it, I think that they’ve parted ways at exactly the right time.

Words by Keira Trethowan
Photography by Craig Taylor-Broad

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