Review: Ellen And The Escapades & Paper Aeroplanes – The Lexington, London

I last saw Paper Aeroplanes on a cold wet evening in the hot sweaty basement of the Slaughtered Lamb. Three months later and a change of venue finds me on a cold wet evening in the delightfully air-conditioned loft of the Lexington. Then Sarah and Richard, the Paper Aeroplanes stalwarts, were joined by a cellist, but tonight they’re in the company of a bespectacled double-bassist.

Their set list is a change from last time, which is refreshing… it’s nice to see a band which mixes up their songs to offer a new experience with each tour. The only songs in common are some firm favourites: Freewheel, Circus, Winter Never Comes and the beautiful My First Love. It’s also a refreshing (and amusing) change to hear a folk band introduce a song with, “There’s a trance remix of this” (before Winter Never Comes). The bassist adds an extra dimension to several of the songs, and he and Sarah get down and funky as the night wears on.

The penultimate song of this short support set is Multiple Love, a fairly new song which has seen a lot of success in a reasonably short time. It’s a beautiful addition, and to follow it with My First Love makes for a killer ending to Paper Aeroplanes’ contribution to the evening.

After a short break, Ellen and the Escapades flood the stage, the five-piece band touring to support the recent release of their debut album All The Crooked Scenes. This is the second night of their ambitious UK tour, packing 10 gigs into 10 days. After a tour opener in their home town of Leeds, and a long drive down from Yorkshire to London, you might have expected the band to look a little tired, but they look bright and eager to perform for the burgeoning crowd. The place isn’t full, but there’s a healthy crowd.

Sadly, once on stage, a little of the eagerness and excitement disappears. They work through all the tracks on All The Crooked Scenes (not in order), but don’t really excite the audience beyond modest applause between songs. Ellen herself seems a little muted, and the only significant banter extends to explaining the incongruous choice of performing a Tears For Fears cover mid-way through the set. The music is good, and the songs are well-played… to me they’re just lacking a little of the je ne sais quoi that you hope for when you go to see live music.

It’s interesting to hear what can probably best be described as folk-rock-Americana coming from a group from the north of England. There’s liberal use of harmonicas (particularly by the keyboardist during Without You, in great style). Ellen breaks out a new hollow-body Gretsch guitar mid-way through proceedings, which also adds to the impression (and matches her suede-tassled boots). There are also more diverse elements in the mix too: definitely echoes of both U2 and Amy MacDonald at times, and perhaps even a tinge of The Cranberries. My favourite song of the night was the closer, Cast, a fairly new song. It ranges from deafening to quietly delicate and back again, with some wicked lead guitar licks in the middle. It somewhat epitomises the entire evening — some strong points, some weak points, with a few shows of brilliance, but overall just a little lacking in excitement. Perhaps they were tired after all.

Paul Woods