Live Review: Meursault with Sick Lion at the Crown, Baltimore, MD – 24th March 2014

By on Tuesday, 25th March 2014 at 2:00 pm

While Baltimore is not that far away, it is a hike from DC, so I personally don’t get out there as often I probably should. However, this past Sunday was a very special occasion and related to the week Carrie and I spent out in Austin for this year’s SXSW. We haven’t gotten to our Saturday SXSW coverage yet (hopefully it’ll be all online later this week), but a band that impressed us so much that we ended up seeing them twice in 7 hours was Edinburgh band Meursault, fronted by singer/songwriter Neil Pennycook. Myself and Cheryl, who I knew would love them upon first listen, headed north to see the band play in Baltimore, as the previous night’s show in Washington had been cancelled. It’s like they say, desperate times call for desperate measures… Joining Pennycook at SXSW and on a tour of America via RV are Rob St. John on bass and Sam Mallalieu on drums.

I celebrated my 5 years in music writing while we were in Austin, and I have been contemplating quite a bit about how my musical tastes have changed since 2009. I like to think that since starting my music as a professional venture, I have broadened my horizons significantly when it comes to sounds and voices I like, though I sincerely wonder if I would have liked Meursault if they had appeared at my first SXSW in 2012. Probably not. However, this year as we stood spellbound watching them play stood down the front at the British Music Embassy, there is no question that in Mary Chang’s life, there is certainly room for headbanging. While I think both Cheryl and I assumed the Crown on North Charles Street would be a dive bar, we were surprised by the impressive array of libations on tap (they had cider on tap, which is rare to find in DC) and the menu from which we could order from even at 10 at night. Take that, Washington. Crispin’s for $6? We may have just found our new favourite bar.

The opening act was local to Baltimore solo artist Lucas Rambo, playing under the moniker Sick Lion. The gig promoter explained to me that Rambo is in another band, American Folklore, but his work with Sick Lion is “more soundscape-y”. Definitely on the experimental side of things, Rambo wore a large straw hat and a navy blue trenchcoat-cum-housecoat, but you couldn’t really see him because he was squatting down behind one of the monitors on the stage. I’m not sure if he did this because he’s shy or if in that position, he felt his voice sounded better.

From what we could see from our vantage point, Rambo had a fairly swish sequencer at his disposal, and was intoning gloom into his microphone. A visit to his Bandcamp does show you even he himself describes his music as ‘spooky’, so make of that what you will, in addition to a video of burning Mexican prayer candles projected on the screen behind him. Unfortunately, he was a little too out there experimentally for us to appreciate, I think.

After watching and thoroughly enjoying two sets by Meursault in Austin, I recognised the guitars on stage when we arrived at the Crown and started to get a little giddy. Oddly, the woman taking covers at the door asked *me* if I knew what was happening there that night. I was happy to help – I explained to her that a kick arse band from Edinburgh were to play there that night – but being asked that by staff there was a little strange to say the least! That began my night on a funny note. And the humour kept coming, thanks first to a projection of the ’80s film Blue Velvet superimposed on top of the band as they played, then on to Pennycook.

The man is clearly witty, and I don’t know if it’s a Scottish thing, but I was bowled over by the friendships I made – and continued – with Scots at this SXSW that I am confident that the Scots are a very charming people. Pennycook made everyone at the Crown laugh by asking open questions like, “is there anyone here who has never seen a Scottish person before?” He even solicited questions from the audience, with one punter biting, asking him, “what does Scott Hutchison smell like?”, to which he answered, “vanilla.” The punter was won over, saying, “I was just testing you.” Laughter all around.

But we were there for the music, right? Pennycook is also clearly someone who gives his songwriting an awful lot of thought. Sunday night’s rockier version of ‘William Henry Miller’ was inspired by a rockier cover by fellow Scots PAWS of the Meursault original, which was intended to be played on banjo. Got all that? Also, there’s this rumour that William Henry Miller, an actual Scottish politician, was a hermaphrodite and the legend has it that he wanted to be buried face down so he could watch the sinners down in hell. Or so sayeth Pennycook. Either way, it makes for an intriguing premise for a song, and I think we all agree that for a rock show, we’d rather hear the punked out version, yeah?

The set ended with the age old question in a song title ‘Was ist das?’, which is about as good as any song to dispel this horrible rumour having been spread round by someone reviewing this year’s SXSW that Meursault are an alt-folk band. Yes, so what if Pennycook knows how to play a banjo? Alt-folk bands don’t jump down from the stage and wail on their guitars, ok? Alt-folk bands also do not have a lead singer whose emotion you can feel in his visceral roars into the microphone and incites headbanging and hair flying. Listen to Meursault, and you will hear the difference. And maybe they’ll change your life.

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One Response

[…] system at the E. 7th Street venue made them sound huge. Contrast that with the show Cheryl and I saw in Baltimore on Sunday night, and I think I’ve gotten the full Meursault live experience over a 9-day period. I’m a […]

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