Live Review: This Is The Kit Calms The Spirits In McHughs

ThisIsTheKit_3000x2000_fullbandMcHughs Bar is a 1711 Georgian hostelry with a haunted basement.*

They play a lot of music down there in the basement in McHughs. Maybe it helps ease those souls that never managed to leave. This Is The Kit will have eased them.

This Is The Kit is the folk-rock collective curated by Kate Stables that is presently touring Ireland. In total the collective is quite large, and many of them are performing artists in their own right. However, the crew on stage at any particular gig changes size and shape according to who is available.

On stage with Stables in McHughs, Belfast, was Rozi Plain on bass and drummer Jamie Whitby-Coles. The atmosphere was relaxed. They sat on the floor and discussed the set list. They clamped children’s tambourines to their legs, and their harmonies were almost familial.

A lot of the songs revolved around the 2015 album Bashed Out. “Vitamins” for example had Coles’ drum brushes adding a warm splashy backdrop to Stable’s cool water voice. Then the comfy bass on “Silver John” bounced heads with Coles’ percussion, this time on sticks. During “All in Cahoots” Stables unconsciously turned and pointed her bare foot towards Plain, followed moments later with her guitar in the same direction. The ensuing harmonies carried that very specific This Is The Kit sound to them, packed and cosy, sounding effortless.

Appearing to be effortless is something to note. Songs were arranged for Stables’ voice to be out front, with a trove of notes and sounds from her compatriots on stage subtly accentuating a point, keeping a mood fenced in, shifting a direction. In “Misunderstanding” the second verse goes:

“Then the one who is pushing
Opens up and is sharing
Breathing in and is smiling
Breathing out and is giving”

And while Stables sang, the gently spun cymbals sounded like water lapping in and out, pushing, pulling, disappearing and coming back. Echoing the words, emphasizing the need for give and take.

We were gifted with some new material too. Stables was on her own for one of those, and while Coles sat at the drums with his hands still and his eyes closed, and Plain was sitting on the floor, Stables stood at the mic on her lonesome, accompanied only by her voice and a song with a vague Irish 1950s feel to it. I didn’t catch its name unfortunately,

It was one of the new songs that had the tambourines fixed to their legs. They’d bought a new one in the toy shop beside Spin City (the downtown laundrette visited earlier that day). That one might have been called “Hotter/Colder”.

They ended on Bashed Out, title track from last year’s album. Kate had pretended to leave the stage while the others were too lazy to move. They cruelly just watched her kerfuffle behind the speakers until she came back on. “Bashed Out” was beautiful. It was sort of a musical version of licking the plate.

This whole performance had been easy and gorgeous. Indeed the only discomfiting element to the night really was Ruth; the support act. She was there performing with her collective standing behind her. Alt-pop she described her sound to me when I asked, and I think that’s the point – I had to ask. I’m not used to the sound that was coming from them on stage. She would hit high notes and keep them long and I would start the note thinking “Oh no” and by the time the note was done I was thinking “Oh wow.” Her voice sounded not quite cooked to me, and then she began hitting those low notes and I changed my mind. Take a listen to her single “Who Are You Living For”.

I’m basically not modern enough – and when a support act like Ruth doesn’t match easily with the artist she is there to support, it is a really good kick up the bum to get out of my comfort zone. Apparently they will be acoustic at the Kilkenny gig for anyone in that neck of the woods who may be reading this.

(*I don’t know if McHughs is haunted – this is pure poetic licence. All I know is that if I worked there I wouldn’t fancy being the last one left to lock up after a late licence …)