4 March 2016
Critically acclaimed is a phrase that is thrown about an awful lot in the music business these days. It’s also a phrase that has rarely seemed better suited to a band than Field Music, whose six albums have almost spectacularly failed to propel them to the industry’s mainstream and success, despite being widely praised by critics such as BBC 6 music DJ Mike Riley and The Guardian’s music guru Alexis Petridis. It is fitting, therefore, for the band’s set at Exeter Phoenix to be somewhat a hit-and-miss affair; pleasant enough and slickly executed, yet lacking in that wow-factor of which the very best artists and bands have in their locker to bring the punters in their droves.
Ably supported for the evening by folk pop three-piece The Drink, brothers David and Peter Brewis take to the stage with their touring band, accompanied by a deliciously inviting saxophone intro. The band kick things off with a near-perfect rendition of ‘The Noisy Days Are Over’, taken from their latest album Commontime. Curiously upbeat for a song written about the sacrifices of fatherhood, the track seems highly appropriate with a great many 40-something males in the on-looking audience. “Baby, we’re going for broke,” drawls Peter during the prog-pop inspired ‘I’m Glad’, “we’re heading for the red, but isn’t everyone?” It’s far from the only nod to the band’s relative lack of commercial success, of the evening, with David later jokingly asking if there were “any experts on the new workplace pension scheme” before launching into the aptly named ‘Who’ll Pay The Bills?’
Despite the confident quips, however, there is a sense that this isn’t quite Field Music at their very best. David struggles to cope with a voice that has seen better days on the infectiously buoyant ‘Disappointed,’ whilst it’s hard to escape the feeling some of the delivery is rather formulaic. ‘A House is Not A Home’, in particular, lacks passion and has a kind of polish that smells somewhat of ‘going through the motions.’
Better are the tracks when Peter leads on vocals. “We tried to stand for nothing, now there’s nothing to stand for,” he offers poignantly on ‘Them That Do Nothing’, which oozes with a sharper and more visceral sound lacking on some of the band’s newer material. There is something almost ‘Up The Junction’-esque in the spiky intelligent lyrics and catchy guitar rift that provokes the most animation from the audience throughout the set. The same, however, cannot be said of ‘Just Like Everyone Else’ off the band’s forth EP, Plumb, which drips with reverb and borders on psychedelic at times, but fails to ignite the crowd. The set highlight is the delightfully eerie charm of ‘Stay Awake’, which flits between soft dream-like vocals and funky, almost jazz-like bass lines in harmonic fashion.
All in all, Field Music are much like their music; something of an enigma. They are at times, brilliant, and at others exceptionally frustrating. Their talent is glaringly obvious, but the execution is lacking.