Live Review: The Sea of Bees at Newcastle Cluny 2 – 7th July 2011

By on Tuesday, 12th July 2011 at 2:00 pm

Words and photos by Martin Sharman

Music fans are on a constant search for something – maybe a piece of music that exactly matches their mood at a particular moment, or a lyric that perfectly expresses a thought that has been rattling around the mind for days on end without an outlet. Then there are the rare occasions when a piece of music marks or inspires a life-changing moment of clarity; when a fresh chapter in life is inspired by the content of its soundtrack.

It would be difficult to imagine a greater musical epiphany than that which is described by Julie Ann Baenzinger as the Sea of Bees‘ set unfolds. Within her personal journey, less rags-to-riches, as rock-bottom-to-Glastonbury-festival, music is the central catalyst that turned her life around. Famously late to music, she had a sheltered, religious upbringing, unsuited to her outlook and sexuality. Swapping familial suppression for that of being a stranger in a big city, Sacramento living did little to quiet the demons, until she discovered the therapy of songwriting. Shell suitably discarded, debut album on the shelves, tonight Newcastle is treated to a snapshot of an embryonic musical talent.

Despite initially appearing shy, Julie is in fact disarmingly honest – with a curious smile we are told of distant, unrequited longings, in great detail and without any sign of self-consciousness. Most songs feature a stilted count-in which makes no rhythmic sense whatsoever, but serves to induce the almost trance-like state that appears to be required for Julie to sing such intimate material.

Plainly attired in lumberjack shirt, tank top and boots, her instrumentation is similarly functional, running to just a couple of guitars – all the better so as not to distract from the bizarrely captivating vocal performance. The songs of longing and lust are expressed in a high-pitched vocal, darting up and down the scale with abandon, sometimes venturing into impossibly high squeaks when a conventional word simply wouldn’t express the level of emotion required. Reminiscent of Kate Bush at her most playful, and blessed with Bjork‘s bravery to push the sung lyric beyond the point of recognisability, the delivery is all the more touching for the thought that such an unconventional style simply cannot be taught: this is directly from the soul.

Stripped to the bare minimum of instrumentation, the songs reveal a fragility sometimes lost on record. ‘Sidepain’, a stomping, feel-good recording, is slowed down and distilled to a handful of acoustic guitar chords, the vocal nuances standing clear. The equivalent of neat whisky, straight from the bottle – the connoisseur’s choice.

Despite the adult subject matter, there’s a childlike, almost playground innocence at work here. It seems appropriate then, to invoke one’s inner child whilst listening – which depending upon one’s age and outlook, is either deeply buried and only allowed out in private, or constantly simmering to the surface at the least provocation. Either way, do them a favour and let the listen to Sea Of Bees; so they know there’s someone in the world writing songs just for them.

More photos after the cut.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

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