Possibly one of the longest queues in a while snaked around the corner of Bush Hall into the side streets for this triple bill. With a host of performers on show as well including The Shires, Sarah Darling, Jenn Bostic, Jarrod Dickenson with his wife Clare and a Wandering Heart this was clearly the place to be on a hot Monday night.
Opening the show while many were still negotiating getting in was Nikhil D'Souza who simply gets better and better each time we see him. A couple of years ago when we first saw him he could undoubtedly sing but still seemed a little nervous between songs now he has developed an endearing stage presence with a great array of one liners and self depricating humour. Taking to the stage unannounced he immediately launched into "Silver and Gold".,and instantly that fusion between East and West is apparent, it may be just a tiny chord here and there or just in the style of guitar playing but occasionally the song goes off in a different direction to the one you were expecting which makes for a much more interesting listen. The vocal style is like nothing else as well where it can swoop high and low and lour and quiet to great effect,
Performing tonight solo with just an acoustic guitar you are left to mentally fill in the gaps as to how these songs might eventually sound when released, "Weightless" forinstance sounded like it could be worked up into an almost Brit pop tune. For the David Sneddon co-write "Take Me Home" the chorus came rich in texture with Nikhil perfectly able to balance when to go high and low.
As mentioned earlier he has a great stage presence thanking Sam Palladio and Striking Matches for closing the show for him and when during the introduction to last years excellent single "Beautiful Mind" an audience member gasped "I Love This" he glanced up and gave a cheeky smile to let her know that he had heard. His short six song set came to an end with the epic sounding "Love Is A Liar", epic in that it already sounds like a big song that will eventually be swathed in instrumentation.
The first time we saw Sam Palladio live was at the momentous night at the Borderline during Striking Matches first visit to London and anyone who was there knows what a special night that was. Since then of course "Nashville" mania took off and he has toured the globe with his cast colleagues but tonight he is was back as himself and with a debut album to follow later in the year it was a chance to trial a few tunes. Talking to the stage looking impossibly tall and dashing with a small but efficient band on drums, bass and keyboards he started with "Hello Homesick Blues" an Eagles style piece of soft country with a lovely keyboard sounding running through it.
Things slowed with the atmospheric "Driftwood", this was very much about playing sings that may make his debut album later in the year. The pace then picked up once again with "Heading For The Fire" a much more uptempo effort with backing vocalists working to great effect to build up the chorus.
Next came the unlikely news that Sam had actually co written a song with Biffy Clyro who were massive "Nashville" fans, that was submitted for use in the programme. This was an acoustic version of what could easily be worked up into a full band rocker by the sound of it.
Of course there had to be a few visits to "Nashville" though less perhaps than some would have liked, the first from series 2 "Adios Old Friend" a favourite of Sam's. For much of the set many may have noticed an interested spectator to the side of the stage, and it was time for her to be announced as Cassadee Pope took to the stage to join in on a duet of "Fade Into You", a little frisson swept through the audience on just hearing the opening few chords The final song a soul country ballad "Goodbye Blue" seemed on first listen to be a break up song with the line "You and me are through!". There was certainly enough evidence tonight that his album to come could easily see Sam eclipse Gunnar and become a fully fledged singer outside of the "Nashville" framework.
Given the last few Striking Matches EP's there was a degree of doubt as to who would turn up, the masters of the short country pop song with a preponderance for the odd guitar solo or two while playing live or the incarnation on those EP's which if we take "Shameless" comes with 3 remixes that seems to be an attempt at the worst possible type of crossover. It was an unlikely tribute to the World Cup but tonights set from the Striking Matches was very much a game of 2 halves, the first half predominantly electric with Justin's guitar set to brutal while the second half was a more acoustic reminder of days gone by.
Before we go to far, full kudos must be given Sarah's outfit, and whatever was keeping it in place! With Bush Hall running at sub tropical and with a Striking Matches performance as usual including perspiration and a lot of ducking and diving the chances of a wardrobe mishap seemed high but it steadfastly performed its job!
So with each playing guitar as well as bit of percussion Justin had a kick drum, while Sarah had a foot operated cymbal they launched into a high octane version of "Retrograde" with each doing an extended solo. this was followed by the thumping intro into "Ghost" This was hot work and Justin soon had his jacket off for the country blues of "Medicine". Things slowed in tempo for the title track of the "Shameless" EP, and there was a much funkier feel for a brand new song "You Make Me Feel Like I'm In The Movies".
At this point is was time to lay down the electric guitars and go acoustic and for a few songs it was like being back at Borderline with "Trouble Is As Trouble Does", there was little need for them to sing the chorus as Bush Hall was already doing it for them. This was followed by another old song "He Only Loves Me When It's Raining" with Justin using his guitar for additional percussion. This acoustic side of things really saw things kick off first off with "Hanging On A Lie" which was probably expected but when they brought out the "tiny guitar" and eulogised over a song they were going to play few would have expected a cover of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up", even less would have expected them to turn it into a slow soulful cover..
The audience by now were ready for anything and so it was time for Cassadee and Sam to reappear for another Nashville / Striking Matches tune "I Ain't Leaving Without Your Love" and inevitably that was to lead on to "When The Right One Comes Along" with the audience once again pulling a shift to provide the backing!.
There was yet time for a bit more grunge guitar with "Crossroads" and if you are going rock out it may as we be on this song. One more piece of recent material "Desire" ( not the U2 song!) followed before the night eventually closed out with an encore of "Make A Liar Out Of Me". At all times both Sarah and Justin were wearing huge grins and they do seem to treasure the reception that they get in the UK