Jukebox The Ghost @ Camden Barfly, London 3/11/11
November 15, 2011 by Kris Lavin
It’s been nearly three years since Jukebox the Ghost have played in the UK, and the Barfly was packed full of people from most demographics. Teenage girls, cool-looking Camden types, ageing Europeans and an elderly couple – it’s pretty hard for anyone to find piano-based pop anything other than generally quite pleasant. I was, therefore, expecting a similarly pleasant, relatively subdued crowd.
Could I have been more wrong? Jukebox the Ghost fans are certainly committed to the cause. As soon as the trio walked on to the stage, the excitement was tangible, and I was beginning to see why. The three guys who had just appeared before us hadn’t even done anything yet and they were already adorable. How the hell do they do that? And then they started making music.
Jukebox the Ghost’s set up is pretty simple – drums, guitar, and a piano/synthesiser. Pianist Ben Thornewill and guitarist Tommy Siegel share vocal duties; Ben’s gentler voice reserved for the quieter songs, while Tommy belts it out during the more mischievous numbers. If they weren’t such talented musicians, and so damn charming, it might’ve been boring, but they were simply captivating. I was already under their spell, though not as far under as the screaming, jumping, dancing, video-recording fanatics around me. At times it felt like I was an agnostic in an evangelical church – the Church of Jukebox – and almost everyone knew every word to each hymn.
This really is testament to how these guys go about their business. Their songs are intelligent and honest; the kind of songs that you can relate to, the kind of songs that you use to express your own feelings. On top of all that, they’re just so unbelievably endearing live, masterfully and effortlessly creating an impressive sound with smiles on their faces, pausing every now and then to regale everyone with genuinely funny anecdotes. I haven’t seen anyone play such personally engaging music with this amount of charm since I last caught John Darnielle live, and a combination like that is bound to gather a Mountain Goats-esque following. People will love you not only because you make good music, but because you speak to them on a personal level.
The highlight of the set was the two-part song ‘My Heart’s the Same/Lighting Myself on Fire’, which combines a quiet and subtle love song with a hard-hitting, largely guitar-led number about setting oneself on fire. The last section of this song, and indeed many of the songs that were played, sound far more powerful live than on record, especially those with more guitar than usual. ‘Static to the Heart’ was a good example of this, and when the two singers bellowed “we’re gonna burn this motherfucker down”, in perfect harmony, I felt a little shocked that these cuddly, quirky, polite guys had actually just sworn, but that made it all the better.
An excellent show performed by talented musicians; the disciples of the Church of Jukebox the Ghost will be itching to go to the next service, and there may well be a few new recruits next time too.