Perfect moments
Sea Of Bees - Live At Hoxton Square Bar And Kitchen, London

Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen is a modest music venue. Contrary to its trendy East London location it comes without bells and whistles, and sandwiched between the burger room and the bogs, is the black box where bands play. Sea of Bees, are equally unassuming. Julie Ann Baenziger (Bee) is casually dressed in jeans, shirt and tank top as she saunters onstage and introduces herself. It soon becomes clear that tonight’s offering will be simplistic and refreshingly gimmick-free.

The venue is packed to the rafters with a swarm of fans who greet Bee and backing vocalist, Amber Padgett, with warmth and adulation. Opening with ‘Skinnybone’, Bee’s vocal fills the room and all excited chatter ceases. The audience are captivated. Her voice is unusual: high-pitched like Joanna Newsom and yet softer and more choral. Padgett introduces a delicate harmony that bubbles under the surface and gives a subtle weight to the song.

Bee’s bassist and drummer join her, quietly taking their places as she greets them with a simple “Hi.” Her patter is witty and endearing, and as she introduces ‘Gnomes’ she instructs those that aren’t familiar with the song to “move (their) hips a little bit” whilst giving a demonstrative wiggle. ‘Take’, which begins with simple guitar picking, slowly builds with bass drum to a powerful and emotive chorus. Bee later tells us in her gentle Californian drawl: “I am proud of this new album. I’m happy about it and I’m pleased to be here to share it with you”.

The addition of bass and drums serves to embellish the simple melodies with a fuller sound, which is pleasant, and yet somehow the power of the vocal is lost. Bee’s voice is perhaps the most interesting facet of Sea of Bees and one can’t help but crave to hear its richness without other instruments watering it down.

‘Leaving’ is Bee’s own take on John Denver’s ‘Leaving On A Jetplane’, which she prefixes with a story about finding love and what being loved means to her. As Bee talks openly to her audience, audible gulps and sighs can be heard from those so touched by her honesty. Her rendition is slower and slightly sorrowful. It has a truthful beauty that captures the meaning of the song in a way that Denver’s version never could. Lyrically, Bee’s own songs are crafted to perfection and each is written from the heart. Bee tells us that ‘Give’ is about “being different, being tossed out to sea and being saved” and her explanation gives the performance an emotional edge.

Sea of Bees end with ‘Sidepain’, and as Bee sings “You’re the sweetest pain in my side”, her band fades to silence. The audience are left with her glorious voice, which resonates as she skilfully bends notes, hypnotising and weaving magic with every word she delivers. Her performance is well received, and calls for an encore resulting in Bee’s return to the stage alone. She plays ‘The Woods’ acoustically and the result is magnificent. To look around the audience one can witness several people openly weeping, others have their eyes closed. Everyone is lost in the performance and all else is forgotten for those perfect moments. The end of the song is met with rapturous applause and a room full of people so grateful for what they just witnessed.

It seems that in an age where multi-instrumental bands embroider their shows with gimmicks and gadgets, much of the purity of good music is lost amongst the décor. When all is stripped back, it serves to show there is no substitute for a genuine talent, where an acoustic guitar and vocals are all that is needed. Sea of Bees certainly have this talent: an ocean of it.

Words by Becci Ride

Follow Clash: