Live Review: Little Comets at North Star Bar, Philadelphia – 8th June 2014

By on Wednesday, 11th June 2014 at 2:00 pm

Little Comets embarked on a short tour of the Northeast United States last week, culminating in a final show at the North Star Bar, in the northern Fairmount neighbourhood of Philadelphia. Seeing them making a surprise appearance at an acoustic Sofar Sounds show that afternoon in the west side of town more than whet my appetite for their full show. (You can read that review here.) I was wowed by my first Little Comets show at the Hamilton in DC last summer; it ended up being my favourite show of 2013. How would this gig compare? And in another city?

Since their appearance in Washington last year, the lads have been keeping themselves busy, writing and recording new songs and even filming their own music videos too. They’ve come a long way since their debut, 2011’s ‘In Search of Elusive Little Comets’. Just this year, they’ve released the two EPs ‘The Gentle EP’ and ‘Salt’ on their own record label, humbly called The Smallest Label.

While lead singer and guitarist Rob Coles has said that the lyrics of their songs have changed, becoming more mature as he and his brother got married and became fathers, what hasn’t changed for this Northeast-bred band (both of the Coles brothers are now based in the Midlands with their families) is the sheer inventiveness of their sound, which comes across loud and clear in all their recordings and also winningly live. It’s also served up with a good dose of whimsy. At least on the songs that Rob doesn’t preface with something like “this is a sad song” when played live, that is.

In contrast to the well-mannered, well-behaved and generally seated, immobile listeners at the Sofar show earlier that day, the North Star Bar show seemed to be, as appropriately dictated by the immortal words in late set song ‘Dancing Song’, “this one’s for dancing!” While simply fun tunes like ‘One Night in October’ and ‘Joanna’ are from the earliest era of this band’s output, I think it’s very telling of their talent – and also to some extent, their humility – that when they perform live, they play a wonderful mix of new and old, serious and fanciful, emotional and footloose and fancy free. Nothing is off limits.

It was very appropriate for the band to include in their set ‘Bridge Burn’, which is for them one of the more simply arranged songs in their catalogue, but more importantly it was a song that they specially included on the American version of their second album ‘Life is Elsewhere’, which was released on Dualtone Records in August 2013.

But in terms of lyrical strength and power, look no further than one of their newest songs ‘The Blur, the Line and the Thickest of Onions’. One of the main reasons I started my other Web site Music in Notes was to bring attention to the wealth, beauty and strength of words in popular song. This Little Comets song challenges the status quo, the rest of the world that is sat idly by while terrible things (misogyny, violence) are happening that should be a call to action but no-one does anything. Another new song, ‘Coalition of One’, is the band’s take on a protest song, taking aim at those who seek to destroy the British welfare state. This is no lightweight pop band. These are guys who set out to write thought-provoking songs with interesting arrangements that won’t leave your head. And succeed.

Sonically, the hallmarks of a Little Comets show are Rob Coles’ sometimes tongue-tied, sometimes acrobatic vocal delivery; his younger brother Mickey’s frenetic guitar playing; bassist Matt Hall’s thumping lines; and their pal Greenie on drums joining in on the fun. On the catchier end of the spectrum are the three Ws – ‘Worry’, W-O-E’ and ‘The Western Boy’ – but then the band lets hit on your ears something borne out of love and you’re just left speechless, verklempt.

‘Waiting in the Shadows of the Dead of Night’ was written by Rob about the inevitability of death and how in every relationship, one will leave this plane before the other, who is then left alone. Everything about this song is memorable: the backing rhythm, the intricate guitar lines, the apparently cheerful melody. And those words: “So hold me and sway me?/ remember?me daily?/ for all that will?remain of us?is photographs?/ no metaphor for this?that I can understand…” Just thinking about the song and about the show Sunday night while I write this is making me cry: there are few bands / songwriters who can move me like this. They are the uncompromising, the brilliant, the genuine. All three words perfectly describe Little Comets.

After the cut: Little Comets’ set list.

Little Comets’ Set List:
A Little Opus
Little Italy
Violence Out Tonight
Waiting in the Shadows in the Dead of Night
Tense / Empty
One Night in October
Bridge Burn
The Blur, The Line and the Thickest of Onions
The Western Boy
Coalition of One
Dancing Song
In Blue Music We Trust

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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.

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