To regular readers it will come as no surprise that I have been leaping at any and all opportunities to see Methyl Ethel live following the sensational Triage. This, in and of itself, proved to be trickier than expected, as a first London gig was cancelled in lieu of supporting Mac DeMarco on his current tour (certainly an upgrade)… but then apparently that wasn’t happening, either. Quite out of the blue, however, cropped up another opportunity to see the band: in the intimate environs of new South London venue, Peckham Audio, located on the increasingly trendy Rye Lane. So it was that Cuzomano, Easy C and two disciples hurriedly left their money treadmills to see if Jake Webb would meet our (now lofty) expectations.
The venue itself merits a few words, as it is truly delightful. An intimate live setting would be an understatement, with capacity for 220 people and the stage pit capable of holding about 50, it conjured memories of Tottenham Court Road’s now-gone (and sorely missed) Mean Fiddler. With a well-stocked bar, intelligent layout and clean acoustics, it is a pleasure to see a good venue open as oppose to close in 2019’s London.
Webb appears on-stage accompanied by keyboardist and Lurch-from-The-Addams-Family-doppelgänger, Thom Stewart. Opening somewhat suddenly with Everything Is Forgotten’s Act of Contrition and playing as a duo, Webb eschews guitar and bass for an electronic-only setup, reworking the arrangements of almost all songs into something different and adapted to this more minimal of setups.
The choice is not without consequences – some inaudible technical issues during the opener inspire a brief, panicked look between Webb and Stewart. Yet Webb – already showing signs of being the consummate showman, with spectacular vocal presence in the flesh – takes it all in his stride, entering the crowd during Triage’s Tripping The Mains. He is, however, visibly stretched, even declaring this “the last time we’ll ever do this duo thing… not because it’s bad, but because it’s bad-ass.”
It is indeed quite bad-ass, in a loveably rough and ready way. The stage is a little cramped, so intimate is the setting, forcing Webb to constantly try to balance his urge to roam the stage against the risk of banging his head on the lights.
Nonetheless, Webb and Stewart still look to be enjoying themselves. Webb enters the crowd early, waking everyone up and prompting one disciple to declare him “a basket case of a man,” amidst a big grin.
Webb’s true strength, which absolutely shines through in a live setting, is his unbelievable vocal presence. Real Tight live is pitch-perfect and sees several audience members dancing along.
The lack of guitars is notable on certain songs, which brings good and bad. My personal favourite, All The Elements, debuts as an ultra-stripped down, piano-led arrangement that is at once arrestingly different but also utterly enthralling, as Webb’s vocals again shine through. The crowd are all fans, familiar with most of the band’s output, and Webb notices, yelling “sing it, guys!”
“This is the first time we’ve played a few of these songs live.” It shows, but it doesn’t take away from the evening; Webb is too self-aware and capable, even if a little stressed (or jet lagged! – he mistakenly wished everyone a good Wednesday night on a Tuesday). The performance of Post-Blue is sumptuous, with satisfyingly deep, pulsing synths and rich sonic layers in a live setting. It is during the second verse that Webb draws attention to their setup, noting, to universal praise from the crowd, “I have to manually press these buttons. Do you see a laptop on-stage? No, you don’t!”
It’s true. It’s totally live, and both Stewart and Webb do a terrific job of it. The crowd (of course predominantly comprising London’s hipster Aussies) are very with it. Webb demonstrates clear instrumental ability, although manifestly needs to perform with a band at this point in his trajectory: it will untie him from the keyboards and free his ability to perform. Indeed, it looks like this is what the Mac DeMarco supporting tour will herald, and we Snobs are very keen to compare the difference.
Until then, Methyl Ethel’s Peckham showing is amusingly haphazard but beautifully personal. Easy C and I suspect this will be the very last time an audience is able to see this band so raw and unvarnished.
Inevitably closing with Ubu, a big synth swell and electronic lead-in heralds a danced-up-to-fuck arrangement that sends a score of too-excited fans at the front into overdrive. Webb himself is less passionate, manifestly ‘over’ this song as an artist, but such is the job.
Two girls craving attention, however, are not over the song, and get on stage to dance with a dispirited nod from Webb, who then promptly ignores them as they pull their phones out and start to record their point of view, awash in self-interest. Welcome to 2019, where the audience believe themselves to be equal in importance to the band. One can only spare a four-letter word for these people, usually seen (coincidentally) on Tuesdays. Webb, meanwhile, is trying to play and handles the distraction perfectly; an attempted hug results in him inaudibly asking them to politely go away and, otherwise, all the while he acts as if it didn’t happen and sustains the performance.
The band leave the stage to chants of “one more song!” and your dear Snobs leave Peckham to disappear back into the annals of North London, certain that the next Methyl Ethel show we see will be fundamentally different. Webb is full of personality and a born performer. Our fervent support of him as an artist continues unabated.