MUSIC REVIEW: Back-to-basics Brakes

Tim Orland

It’s a miracle of music chemistry when two voices blend so perfectly, complement each other so effortlessly, that the result is nothing short of breathtaking.

Even alone, Olly Knights has one of the most distinctive, stunningly beautiful voices in rock today. But when Gale Paridjanian, who with Knights forms the British folk-rock duo Turin Brakes, joins in, magic fills the air.

On Friday at Martyrs’, the duo appeared with nothing but two acoustic guitars and microphones between them. The group’s label wouldn’t spring for the back-up band to travel to the U.S., Knights sheepishly told fans. So the strummers were left to go it alone, save a keyboardist and drum machine. And that proved to be a blessing in disguise.

The band worked with an effortless grace through a nearly flawless 14-song set, comprised of tunes from its first two albums

Turin Brakes first made a name for itself stateside on its debut, 2001’s The Optimist LP. By that time the band had already snagged a Mercury Music Prize nomination and critical raves in its native country.

Despite a denser sophomore effort that utilized more extensive instrumentation, this year’s Ether Song, the band’s strengths still lie more in guitars and vocals than in studio wizardry; and it was these elements that were on display at Martyrs’. Even the new songs are, at their core, elegant and fragile folk-rockers. “Panic Attack,” Song’s lead single, may have a faster tempo than much of The Optimist’s material, and rely on an electric guitar for a mid-song solo, but played acoustically without drums and bass, it retains every bit of its urgency. And on “Long Distance,” one of Song’s denser numbers, the stripped-down live version may even better its recorded counterpart.

On one hand, it’s a shame Turin Brakes haven’t caught a break here, but that wouldn’t suit the band’s style. Brakes proves that the keys to a good live show are not lights, pyrotechnics, a full band or a couple thousand screaming fans. Instead, they prove just how amazing a couple of guys with guitars can be. A