Athlete are one of those bands that, whilst successful, have not managed to scale the higher strata of music business status despite notable awards and plaudits. Indeed, although there musical output is relatively compact, it is definitely a matter of quality rather than quantity. There anthemic approach to songwriting, recording and their live performances have inspired both loyal fans and appreciative listeners. Their strength relies on producing songs that have intelligent, yet charming, lyrics and memorable melodies that readily induce the Old Grey Whistle effect.
This latest release is a snapshot of the last night of their 2011 'Stripped Down' tour, a subset of the full setlist, but all the songs have that sense of familiarity from airplay and the TV broadcasts of their festival sets. Last night I settled down, donned my headphones on and treated myself to an uninterrupted listen. Unlike many first CD auditions I found myself happily riveted, encapsulated by the mood of the event and, as each song ended, smiling broadly in appreciation.
With a consummate line-up that knows these songs every which way, it is a delight to hear the re-inventions played with such ease and feel. And there is plenty of imaginative re-invention, with drummer Stephen Roberts combining percussion with beat boxes as well as kit. The balance and sound is approached differently, too, yet nothing is out of place or overpowering. Bassman Carey Willetts has a couple of starring parts along with a little out of tune passage, which, of course, makes it all totally authentic!
Singer Joel Potts makes a point of complementing keyboard player Tim Wanstall for his contribution, rightly so, as his playing throughout is sublime (even though there's what sounds like one little fluffette just before Joel's introduction!). The vocals are excellent throughout, too, although I suspect there has been some minor tweaking as I am sure I can hear some harmonies sung by Joel ;-) Mr Potts has one of those singer's voices, very distinct, easily identifiable and the way he phrases the lyrics is special.
The CD album captures those live gig moments, introductions and banter have been left in without detracting from the overall production, the atmosphere builds as they launch into 'Flying Over Bus Stops' gently, then building with a Jónsi-esque 'Grow Til Tall' climax. This is then followed by the closing track, 'that' song, 'Wires'. As per when I enjoyed their set at the Greenbelt Festival in 2009, the song is reprised after the tumultuous applause, culminating in just the 'congregation' singing with gusto and conviction, wonderful!
ATHLETE - LIVE AT UNION CHAPEL will be released on 27th Feb 2012 - purchase direct (as I did!) from Athlete HQ here.
Joel closes his anecdotal sleevenotes with this:
It's pretty nerve wracking playing in such a setting. I mean, everyone sitting in the pews and God is somewhere at the back.And God saw that it was good... very good...