Whether the Church of England’s in terminal decline or not, it feels like there are more gigs than sermons taking place in London’s holy spaces nowadays. Following the lead of The Union Chapel and St Pancras Old Church, St Leonard’s in Shoreditch is the latest to open its doors to the secular set, and following Serafina Steer’s celeb-fest here last week, it’s Veronica Falls’ turn to give its tired grounds some respite from the Special Brew crew, replacing them with Jane Birkin wannabes and duffel-coated undergrads, sharing roll-ups.
The pews are packed for tonight’s sell-out show, and a congregation that extends up to the gallery is treated to a compilation of overlooked gems by acts like Protex, Half Japanese and Felt. Given that the ‘Falls are the kind of band who wear their influences stencilled on their satchels, we can only assume the mix-tape was lovingly crafted by their own fair hands.
It’s this faint aroma of C86-inspired twee-ness that’s still proving too pungent for many, but with latest effort ‘Waiting For Something To Happen’ winning rapt reviews across the board, now’s as good a time as any for the detractors to reappraise their opinions. And if you find their slightly-shambolic sound repellent rather than winning on record, catch the band live and you might just be pleasantly surprised.
Deprived of the lo-fi tape hiss, their sepia-toned indie-pop is much more muscular and polished in a live setting. Slow-burning set opener ‘Tell Me’ finds Roxanne Clifford and James Hoare building a wall of sound – layer-by-layer, from Tom Verlaine-esque guitar lines – that boom back at us from amps haphazardly propped on piano stools. ‘My Heart Beats’ is a more propulsive – dare-we-say-it – almost punk prospect, driven by a tight performance from rhythm section Patrick Doyle and Marion Herbain.
St Leonard’s suits them too: plaintive lines like, “I’m broken hearted, dearly departed,” from ‘Found Love In A Graveyard’ sound decidedly more ghoulish bouncing off the hallowed stone, plus the church’s cacophonous acoustics afford them some lovely, FX-free reverb during the mournful surf-pop of ‘Beachy Head’. The only bum note of the night comes during ‘Wedding Day’, which finds Clifford singing slightly flat, and even then it feels churlish to mention it, because her enthusiasm is so patently obvious it’s infectious.
While she weaves about the stage, shaking notes from her cherry red Epiphone, Hoare is a restrained presence, content to look on imperiously and leave it to the affable drummer to thank us frequently for attending. Together, the three of them are responsible for some soaring vocal harmonies, most notably on the unadulterated sugar-rush of ‘Teenage’ and during set-highlight ‘If You Still Want Me’. By the time gig-closer ‘Come On Over’ rolls around, the devoted are on their feet, with a healthy handful even moved to do their best, awkward, indie-disco shuffle in the aisles.
Veronica Falls might be preaching to the converted tonight but powerful performances like these are a signal that they’re more than capable of growing their flock. And with Belle & Sebastian still AWOL, it’s hard to think of an act better equipped to step into the breach.
Words by Gemma Samways
Photos by Andrew Novell