Black Heart Procession @ The Garage, London (12th October 1999)

Here's a novel idea, right? We start judging gigs by the people you see in the toilets. No, really...Girls' loos fall into several predictable categories---Camden indie wannabie trash who shag geeky drummers from fifth rate local bands, young girlies with black eyeliner bouncing off the walls and being sick together, cooler-than-thou types with all the latest velcro-strapping and trainers...They're all united by the pull of the mirror, putting even more lipstick on, combing their hair, pouting. Tonight, however, is different. American college girls discuss renaissance plays, unassuming women smile pleasantly and noone is emptying the contents of their handbags in search for mascara. It's like noone is here to pull. Which, when you think about it, is quite sensible, for this is the sound of desertion, frustrated love that has been dealt a final blow. You just wouldn't want to fall in love at the Black Heart Procession gig---it'd be like it's doomed from the start.

They begin with some of the most bleakly, delicately desolate songs like "Stitched to My Heart" and "When we Reach the Hill" and proceed to play most of both "1" and "2". The music shies away from Nick Cave's morbidness, Tom Waits' sleaziness or Mercury Rev's weirdness and yet it sounds a bit like all of them. The difference is that this is unashamedly sad. Heartbreaking. It is sadness unmediated, publicly disclosed, deeply personal but dissected for our pleasure (if that's the right word) and laid out for inspection. Yet it is somehow easy not to cringe watching someone that EXPOSED. There is no glamour or hysteria on stage, they are one of those bands you wouldn't fancy or envy or want to be like them---this is too introspective and it's all about music. Perhaps Pall Jenkins cultivates the bearded hippy look (think Fast Show's Dr. Dexter) on purpose, almost as a disguise, a sole barrier to his 'real' personality.

Metal sheet, violin bow, eerie samples, sparse guitar, punctuated drumming, crystalline's all there as you'd expect, creating folky lullabies and weirded-out film noir soundtracks. It's not the eight-people extravaganza they put on during some of their shows but it doesn't matter---the stage wouldn't be big enough anyway. And what a voice Pall Jenkins has...I never thought I'd use this verb but it literally soars on songs like "Release My Heart" or the personal favourite "A Light so Dim". Live, the haunting quality (another cliche, thank you) isn't really amplified and the songs don't sound as fragile as on record (although I could swear I heard someone going 'ssssshhhhh' during "Your Church is Red"). Nevertheless, it is finely crafted and precise---until it all dissolves into a wash of noise during the closing song "A Heart the Size of a Horse".

BHP walk a tightrope between plaintive melancholy and crass sentimentality but thankfully always stay on the right side. It's probably the sadness and the faint menace that keeps them far enough from being sickly sweet. Wandering out into the cold night in a mild alcoholic haze, I feel bruised. Square old heart, indeed. (Radiant Kovacs)

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