Sound ’11 Acoustic Afternoon at The Sage

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March 30, 2011 by Dan Swinhoe

It has aways been my assumption that acoustic afternoons consist of shaggy-haired guys with acoustic guitars singing heartfelt songs about their latest muse. Turns out I was wrong, and they can consist of well-dressed String Ensembles playing a serenade to an enamoured and equally dapper-looking audience.

This years’ Sound event at the Sage has a bit of everything: Samba, Gamalan, Rock, Electronica and more. The acoustic segment features musicians from Newcastle University.

Opening the afternoon are Horizontal Sunday, a folk trio with a simple set up of Fiddle, Melodeon and clarsach As the name suggests they aren’t the most energetic performers, playing mostly sweet and relaxing folk from all over Europe. Despite the minimalist sound that comes from a trio they play very well and obviously enjoy performing together and sound at their best playing the more high-tempo jig songs, though the nature of the Sage means the crowd sit quietly instead of dancing along in the way those sort of songs demand. Investment in a a quiet percussionist would be wise, the stomping was an unwelcome distraction, especially during the lighter moments.

After such a good start, Tea Street were a big let down. They played what the brochure calls interpretations and everyone else calls covers of popular songs but replace vocals with Trumpet, Trombone and Sax. It’s fun for the first song (Kids by MGMT) but soon loses focus and the novelty with it. They look awkward on stage and some sort of wardrobe miscommunication leaves three quarters of the band in non-matching blue-checked shirts. To see how this should be done see Oompah Brass. They’ve been doing this for years and have the stage presence and a richer sound thanks to a bigger troupe. The ending is saved thanks to a wise choice of song in Daft Punk’s Around The World.

The Newcastle Saxophone Quartet are the highlight of the afternoon, playing a range of compositions that suit the mood and have the class that fits a venue like the Sage. Bathing the listener in sweets sounds that create a film noire atmosphere, it’s both soothing and engulfs you, grabbing your attention. Tempo and mood changes don’t interrupt the enjoyment and a medley at the end including What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailer shows Jazz doesn’t always have to have its serious face on.

The Six Bridges String Ensemble return after last years performance to close the afternoon with Dvorak’s Serenade For Strings in E Major (1875). The music keeps the crowd enthralled throughout and each movement has its own distinct style and really shows off the talents of these young performers.

Once the final bows have been taken and the afternoon is over I leave feeling better off for hearing so much sweet music, even if I am a little under-dressed.

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