Summer Camp at The Joiners (14/11/11)

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With songs of summer fun and young couples’ first kisses, Summer Camp took to the stage of The Joiners in an attempt to bring some summery charm to Southampton.

Supported by three local Southampton bands, the mood was set perfectly with a range of musical talent and approaches. Making Waves’s minimalist xx-inspired sound started things off in atmospheric fashion, and they were closely followed by indie-pop outfit Montage Populaire, who got the crowd going with their modern take on post-punk. Last act Oresteia, an eccentric band of six musicians including a saxophonist, gave a performance nothing short of extraordinary, which you couldn’t take your eyes off. Gyrating, face-pulling, and interesting clothes, as well as their experimental sound, made it seem like a Man Man tribute band.

Oresteia’s theatrical over-performance was the complete opposite of what was to follow. Summer Camp are a band based on lo-fi — in the ilk of Vivian Girls and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart — thus their look and sound is all about being straightforward and easy.

Launching with the only single of new album Welcome to Condale, ‘Better Off Without You’, Summer Camp quickly demonstrated their quirkiness and key brilliance with Elizabeth Sankey’s beautiful yet powerful vocals. Sankey started off singing in the crowd — without a microphone — with Jeremy Warmsley playing on acoustic guitar, and then walked onstage and went full throttle into the song seamlessly. It’s a brave move for any band to sing without electronic help, especially in our age of auto-tune manufactured pop, and demonstrated the band’s talent straight away. In fact, for that one minute, you probably could have heard a pin drop.

With a projector showing sepia photos, old wedding footage and snippets of films featuring Elvis and John Cusack, the band launched into their set — and were the perfect soundtrack for the clips. Highlights included upbeat romantic ‘Round the Moon’, the poppy ‘1988’ which goes along like a yearbook of a person’s life, and the cinematic ‘Summer Camp’.

Technical difficulties with the projector led to some unexpected band banter, but it was a welcome addition to the set. The band showed their genuine nature, mocking themselves of their middle-class background and apologising for not playing a song request as they had “an album to plug”. Indeed, the band had everything in balance. The music wasn’t overly synched or overpowering, and Warmsley’s vocals were understated perfectly to fit in line with Sankey’s delicate tones. Indeed, this was epitomised by last song ‘I Want You’, with its synth-pop sound and vocal overdubs a beautiful end to the set.

If there was one flaw, the live performance did lay bare the band’s lyrical failing and overuse of repetition. Indeed, most of the song’s chorus feature the same line repeated several times: ‘Welcome to Condale’ repeats “I’m coming home”, while ‘Down’ goes for a refrain of “Up or down?”. No particular inventiveness and outright obviousness is present in much of the band’s music. Yet, in many ways, this simplicity just adds to the band’s appeal. Summer Camp aren’t trying to be musical pioneers or produce challenging songs; they are just two people, without pretension, creating dream pop sounds of young love and licking ice creams in Californian sunshine.

On a cold crisp monday evening, Summer Camp brought music — and charm — that warmed the Joiners crowd’s hearts.

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