Making waves in the UK
Alex Winston - Live At Thekla, Bristol

There is always an element of danger when anything is taken from land to water or vice-versa – especially when it’s music i.e. The Sex Pistols circa 1977, SNL circa 2009. Alex Winston knew this when she boarded Bristol’s floating music venue and truly large ship, Thekla, with her touring indie septet. The quirky Detroit native seemed to embrace the opportunity with the same smiling gaiety that has sent many listeners into astonishment over her music in the past year.

Since signing to Island Records in early January, Winston has released her beloved ‘Sister Wife’ EP and most recent debut LP, ‘King Con’, to glowing reviews. It’s been a long road from her childhood opera lessons in Michigan, but the twenty-six year-old emerged onto the stage from lower deck determined to win over the crew.

Alex Winston’s little body/big voice persona was almost essential on the overcrowded stage. Surrounded by seven other musicians, the group boarderd on excessive, but the density added to the party-like atmosphere in the low ceilinged hull. The barefoot and sun-dressed Winston broke into song almost immediately. Any vocal shrillness evident on her digital album was replaced with a smooth voice in her live set.

The venue erupted with the cymbal-crashing chorus of ‘Host’ and transformed the murky ambiance into a vibrant ravine of exuberant red cheeks and moving feet. Beckoning and livening the audience with her beaming eyes, Winston danced around the stage in a kind of hardcore, indie skip, mixed with the occasional Arabian belly roll. Winston even let a star-struck fan have a go at the refrain, directing the microphone to his face. “Not too bad,” her faced seemed to say as she smiled and continued belting the thumping tune.

Alex Winston flickered through her catalogue of blissful melodies and heel-tapping anthems with a natural eccentricity that was oddly alluring. Even if the nasally vocals of ‘Velvet Elvis’ drifted a little too far into her head-voice, she compensated with her uplifting attitude. The multitude of backing instrumentation helped the refrains protruding from the stage beat inside the body, but occasionally drowned out the vocals into the buzz of rhythm guitar, synthesizers, and drum tambour.

The set slowed at the reluctant discretion of a conversational Winston who humbly introduced the mellow ballad ‘Guts’ to the spellbound listeners. This track featured a personal touch that climaxed with the probing line “You let the bottom drop out, it’s such a copout.” After the hook had fallen, Winston explained how great it was to have fans singing the lyrics to almost every song. It was a modest and well-measured thank you that was well received.

Not wasting a breath, Winston and her band once again cast the ship into the colossal feel-good jam ‘Sister Wife’ that bumped like its blood-related down tempo track ‘Sleepyhead’ by MGMT.

To the shock of many, Winston announced their last song after an undeniably short set. Nonetheless the show ended with the bang. Crowd favourite ‘Choice Notes’ could not strike a wrong note in any audiophile's ear. The smiley summer song was a fitting finish to the energetic aquatic show. Alex Winston proved that apart from brilliant song writing and a spirited energy, the up-and-coming indie vocalist could make waves in the UK without drowning in the homogeneous indie-pop music scene.

Words and photo by Woodson Black

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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