This Is The Kit arrive in London on the back of a deservedly acclaimed fourth album, ‘Moonshine Freeze’. The songs sound even better live than on record, as Kate Stables and her band fill the venue with a joyful, uplifting and calm spirit. The evening is warming and cheering, which is just as well given the cold weather

Empty seats are scattered through the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, making it feel even more chilly. Many seats remain vacant for second act Barbarossa, after singer-songwriter/guitarist Seamus Fogarty richly entertains the early arrivals with his witty Irish folk, accompanied by Emma Smith on fiddle. He ends a fine wee set based on his 2017 album ‘The Curious Hand’ with a stripped down version of ‘Carlow Town’, a darkly humorous song about falling asleep in the town’s church after a night out drinking, and waking up as mass is being said. 

As if by magic, as soon as This Is The Kit start, the venue fills up. The first song features band leader Stables alone, picking her banjo on ‘Easy on the Thieves’ — the first of 10 tracks tonight from ‘Moonshine Freeze’ — with backing vocals from bassist Rozi Plain. The audience is instantly gripped, as the lyrics meld colloquial charm with poetic mystery, tacking from “what a proper pair of charlies to people want blood, and blood is what”. 

The encore starts with another Stables solo, ‘Show Me So’ but she’s changed from a black dress into a Corbyn T-shirt, as has Plain, who returns with the rest of the band for the final song of the night. It’s darkly discordant and edgy — unlike anything that’s gone before: the title track from 2015’s ‘Bashed Out’, given a sweeping arrangement of haunting horns, sliding guitar, unresolved noise, drums played with mallets and resonant bass. 

Stables’ banjo and semi-acoustic electric guitar picking and strumming are entrancing throughout, her voice is like birdsong, and she whistles perfectly on ‘Two Wooden Spoons’. She is a charming host. “Don’t be shy about finding your seats,” she says as the final punters slope in. “I hope it warms up soon. I hope everyone’s OK, temperature wise,” she adds after ‘Silver John’. Later on, before a gently mesmeric ‘By My Demon Eye’, she again jokes about the numbingly low temperature inside the venue: “Thank you for this warm welcome.Stables dedicates ‘Cold and Got Colder’ to recently deceased Mark E Smith and Ursula Le Guin, and the lyrics are perfectly appropriate: “… miss it so strongly”.

Half way through the set, the six members of her band sit down on stage as she stands alone to deliver the complex and paradoxically punctuated defiance of ‘Riddled With Ticks’: “I will fight you / will fight you / will fight you / will fight / you / will lose”. Just the brass section and Stables play older song ‘Waterproof’, the drums silent again while Plain and guitarist Jesse Vernon remain seated.

But this is far more than a solo show by Stables with a good backing band; members of This Is The Kit are integral to the performance. Plain’s big, bold bass playing and varied drumming by Jamie Whitby-Cole drive the songs forward. Both contribute vocally, and the bass clarinetist joins their backing vocals on the Latin jazz-funk fiesta of ‘Hotter Colder’, on which the saxophonist soars and squawks over a brass break. Those horns and Vernon’s sparse guitar notes create a crucial part of the grooving, head-nodding atmosphere on the song ’Moonlight Freeze’. 

A swinging, trippy ‘Magic Spell’ cements a hippy vibe in the room, as the crowd whoops Vernon’s neo-psychedelic guitar breaks. Hints of this hippiness come earlier, on the syncopated dream-like rhythms of ‘Empty No Teeth’, when the brass trio recalls the feel of arrangements on the classic 1967 album ‘Forever Changes’ by Love. The bass clarinet, sax and trumpet, and the drumming by Whitby-Cole, give the feel of jazz to the underlying folk. Likewise,  ’All Written Out In Numbers’ takes English folkloric references from ‘Green Grow The Rushes, O’ in the lyrics, juxtaposed with repetitive, hypnotically cyclical, jazzy guitar motifs that are then taken up by the brass section.

Stables writes rewardingly ambivalent songs that stick in the mind, not least because of her perfect enunciation. Her lyrics are fascinatingly fragmented and circular. Long after the set ends, words from ‘By My Demon Eye’ still resonate: “Love is not enough — and too much / Love is not enough / And will we know it, when we find it / And do we know we’re looking for it.

This Is The Kit played:
01. ‘Easy on the Thieves’ (Kate Stables solo)
02. ‘Silver John’
03. ‘Bullet Proof’
04. ‘Empty No Teeth’
05. ‘Moonshine Freeze’
06. ‘All Written Out in Numbers’
07. ‘Riddled with Ticks’ (solo)
08. ‘Waterproof’
09. ‘Two Wooden Spoons’
10. ‘By My Demon Eye’
11. ‘Magic Spell’
12. ‘Cold and Got Colder’
13. ‘Solid Grease’
14. ‘Hotter Colder’
Encore
15. ‘Show Me So’ (solo)
16. ‘Bashed Out’

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