There aren’t enough songs with whistling. Maybe that’s because most end up sounding either cloying (Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy) or downright irritating (The Scorpions’ Winds Of Change).
So when somebody does get it right, the effect is spellbinding. Like when This Is The Kit’s Kate Stables, plucking out the chords of Two Wooden Spoons alone, whistles the vocal melody. Together, the stark instrumentation and the haunting sound from her lips easily create a feeling of intimacy and vulnerability in a venue as vast as Shepherd’s Bush Empire. And this is even before she’s begun to sing or the whole band’s joined in.
But what’s even more impressive is that the song from 2011’s Where It Lives isn’t even the highlight of a consistently sublime set. A surefire contender is the entrancing Magic Spell from Bashed Out which, built around a kwela guitar sound straight out of Soweto, blossoms into a swirl of hypnotic rhythms and an atmospheric solo from guitarist Neil Smith.
A bruised take on Bashed Out, the title track of the 2015 LP produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, is equally magnificent and closes tonight’s performance in a dramatic instrumental swell rivalling the best of Sigur Ros.
A heartbreaking Waterproof, sounding even more forlorn with the muted accompaniment of cornet player Marcus Hamblett and saxophonists Emma Gatrill and Lorenzo Prati, is hard to beat. And a brooding Cold and Got Colder, dedicated to the memory of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith, is a masterclass in catharsis.
But it’s the songs from current LP, and one of RockShot Mag’s best albums of 2017, Moonshine Freeze that shine brightest. The delicate Easy On The Thieves, contrasting Stables’ sunny banjo and her crystal clear vocals about our inability to take personal responsibility, is a real wake-up call to open the show.
The moving Bullet Proof and mesmerising Empty No Teeth add full orchestration, including the versatile brass section and Jamie Whitby-Coles’ nimble drumming, while the compelling title track thrives on complex rhythms and the backing vocals of bass player Rozi Plain. So too does All Written Out In Numbers, which almost becomes a duet as the two singers explore the idea of humans figuring out their place in the universe.
Riddled With Ticks, despite turning down the volume on the band, is Stables at her most defiant and exposed, while the jaunty By My Demon Eye (“about a hobgoblin who lost his hat”) is the singer-songwriter at her folkiest.
Musically, Solid Grease toys effortlessly with intensity and pace behind the night’s most tender vocal performance, before the jubilant Hotter Colder contrasts a sax blowout and another irrepressible Smith guitar lick with imagery of shadows moving through the dark water. It’s the perfect, rousing end to a main set.
Fittingly the encore begins with a song performed solo by Stables, the creative force and sole constant of This Is The Kit. Show Me, in all its minimalist beauty, is as engaging as the artist performing it, and yet as enigmatic as the person who’s told anecdotes tonight about R.E.M., tooth dreams, a stage production of The Worst Witch, and “returning to a familiar place in the circle”.
Review of This Is The Kit @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 25th January 2018 by Nils van der Linden. Photos by Simon Jay Price.