First up to the stage was XpressionFM’s Leah Finegold, guitar in hand and ready to lead the room through a set of perhaps predictable but well-executed covers, comprised mainly of folk/pop hits. Opening with Vance Joy’s ‘Riptide’, Finegold established an enthusiastic energy that she maintained throughout her performance, clearly at ease in front of an audience. Her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’ highlighted her skill with her acoustic guitar but appeared to be slightly at odds with her more soulful, forceful voice, which handled Womack’s classic ‘California Dreaming’ much more comfortably. A particular highlight of the set was a cover of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’, which exhibited her vocal range and power well while also alluding to the folk/acoustic genre that dominated her set. As a whole Finegold impressed with her energetic delivery of some classic covers, capturing her audiences attention and establishing the relaxed, intimate feel of the early evening.
their intricate harmonies that seemed to swamp and silence the entire room
Next was Jennifer Berning, who captured the attentions of her audience with her distinctively low, delicate voice for the length of her set, made up of originals and some unexpected covers. Berning established her sound from the first song, with an understated cover of ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, giving her the opportunity to demonstrate how at one she appeared to be with her acoustic guitar, providing a relaxed accompaniment throughout but never becoming the focus of the performance. As an Erasmus student, Berning introduced some variety to her set by performing a song in her native German, which gave her the opportunity to set herself apart from the narrow female acoustic singer/songwriter stereotype.
Throughout her set Berning was joined by a bassist, which created a more dynamic quality and really lifted the sound itself, particularly through her covers of George Ezra’s ‘Budapest’ and Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’, in which the bassist also provided backing vocals, creating a sound evocative of duos such as Angus and Julia Stone. At times the songs became slightly repetitive, with many being extremely mellow tracks that I felt would lend themselves quite easily to an acoustic album. However there were some unexpected covers of chart hits ranging from Meghan Trainor to an Eminem/Destiny’s Child mash-up to The Proclaimers, with Berning herself admitting that “I don’t write happy songs so I do covers”. There was a nice level of interaction maintained throughout with the audience being asked to sing or clap along; creating a warm and laid-back atmosphere that perfectly suited the Firehouse setting.
In a distinct contrast to the two previous acts, the cast of Shotgun Theatre’s upcoming show Witches of Eastwick took to the stage to perform some of the standout musical numbers. As expected, Shotgun commanded the now crowded room from the word go, impressing with their intricate harmonies that seemed to swamp and silence the entire room. Though the musical-theatre sound may not have been to everyone’s taste, it would have been hard to not be impressed by the onslaught of striking solo performances by some clearly very talented individuals, who made the complex vocals appear effortless. The cast maintained character as much as was possible on the crowded stage with the emotion of the songs, from flirtatious to desperate, portrayed in a convincing and absorbing manner. Shotgun appeared to achieve what they had set out to do, by creating an intriguing preview of the full show that generated a genuine sense of curiosity about the upcoming performances whilst also thoroughly entertaining their audience.
Head down to The Old Firehouse tonight for another instalment of great local music, featuring a debut performance from Daisy Vaughan, a return slot for Drive In Saturday frontman Henry Adams and a cappella from Exeter University Madrigals. Full information can be found here.