thu 13/12/2018

Brent Cowles, Thousand Island review – cornering the market in heartbreak and harmony | reviews, news & interviews

Brent Cowles, Thousand Island review – cornering the market in heartbreak and harmony

Brent Cowles, Thousand Island review – cornering the market in heartbreak and harmony

Denver singer-songwriter and former You, Me & Apollo frontman makes his UK debut

Brent Cowles: expect the unexpectedStephanie Augello

It’s a freezing cold, wet night in north London and Denver-based musician Brent Cowles is braving the grimness to play his first ever UK gig, at Highbury’s tiny, mirrorball-stuffed Thousand Island (the latest incarnation of The Garage’s upstairs venue).

After an excellent opening set from Londoner Dan Lyons, the former Fat White Family drummer who’s swapped the kit for a guitar to front his own trio, a black-clad, Cuban-heeled and wild-maned Cowles takes to the stage. He goes straight into soulful acoustic track “December Sun” – a song from the days of his old band, You, Me & Apollo – before the flame-haired, honey-voiced Heidi Hamill joins him for the rest of the show.

Bluesy crooning, impassioned yelps, snarling rock ’n’ roll, dirty bar-room blues, Motown melodies, spine-tingling falsetto – Cowles does it all. As he howls into the darkness, he's a truly magnetic presence and Hamill – “my best friend in the world” – is the perfect foil for his nigh-on uncategorisable brand of music. Cowles and Hamill's voices complement each other perfectly as they harmonise like a dream, and the pair are a hilarious double act on stage – a raised eyebrow here, an accidentally synchronised water-drinking incident there (“We practised that,” deadpans Hamill), a discussion of what to do in London in their days off after the tour ends (a shout-out suggesting a full English breakfast particularly piques their interest).

And the songs – oh goodness, the songs. Tonight’s set features all five tracks from Cowles’ 2017 EP “Cold Times”, with highlights including its funk-infused title track, the stomping “Lift Me Up (Leave Me Here)” and the utterly devastating breakup dissection “9th and Lafayette”, and there's a hefty helping of Cowles' impressive debut LP, this year’s acclaimed “How to Be Okay Alone”. “Keep Moving” is a standout (check out its brilliant video, featuring some outstanding and unexpected choreography by Hamill), as is gorgeous album opener “The Fold”. Cowles closes his set with the album’s final two tracks – the Ryan Adams-esque “Places”, and the delicate, hauntingly lovely title track. This guy can write really, really good songs – and he’s already got the life story to feed them (son of a preacher man, married and divorced by 19, a period of homelessness for starters).

This is the penultimate night of this tour, with a support slot for Israel Nash at the Scala the last show before Cowles heads back to the States – where upcoming gigs include opening for Mavis Staples in January. Tonight he played to a small but rapt and extremely appreciative audience (including two girls with an impressive dedication to dreamily dancing right in front of the stage, much to Cowles and Hamill’s delight). It’s only a shame that more people weren’t there to experience this intimate, very special gig that will be the start of good things here for Cowles, if there’s any justice. We want to be there when they happen.

@ellievanhalen

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This guy can write really, really good songs – and he’s got the life story to feed them

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