Aqualung, Joe's Pub, NYC, 2/02/05

No relation to Jethro Tull, Matt Hales who records using the group name Aqualung, performed at Joe's Pub in the early slot (7pm), thus allowing a concert doubleheader courtesy of the fine folks at Sony who have signed Aqualung and have just released the U.S. debut cd, Strange and Beautiful, which is comprised of tracks from Aqualung's two British cds, Aqualung from 2002 and Still Life from 2003. Despite a bout with bronchitis, Aqualung performed a warmly received set that was low on volume but full of mood and well crafted songwriting. That the twenty-something crowd seems to be embracing this purveyor of soft and sensitive melodies (anyone remember the singer-songwriters of the 70's?) is a very encouraging development that was driven home even more at the next stop.

Although I'd not heard Aqualung before and was totally unfamiliar with the music, I did thoroughly enjoy the set. It reminded me quite a lot of Teitur's Joe's Pub set which I saw under very similar circumstances - not very familiar with the music but enjoyed very much the low key melodic approach that these two artists seem to have in common. Here is an excerpt from the Aqualung website tour diary entry for Joe's Pub, written by Matt's brother, Ben Hales.

"Day 12
Joe’s Pub, New York, 2 February 2005
Just once in my “career”, I’d like to do a tour and not get ill. We’ve all got it now. We’re being driven around in a van and it’s just a symphony of expectoration. Matt has King Cough, though. A whole higher order of coughing that we believe he contracted from Kofi.

Matt is regularly ill on tour too, but this is the first time it has really affected his singing. This is bad news for the radio session we are doing this afternoon at WFUV. Radio in America is a mysterious creature, far removed from cosy British radio with its national subsidy. There are actually a lot more choices in the States, (however much this is belied by the fact that whenever you turn the radio you have to listen to “Born to be wild”), and one interesting subset is the public radio station, which is funded by listener subscriptions. These seem to attract a very loyal following of people who aren’t interested in car insurance, and so I’m told, are very influential in introducing new music. We went to visit KEXP in Seattle, and we’ve been invited to play at the fundraiser for KCRW in LA in March. Along with WFUV who enjoyed a very croaky session this morning, they’ve all been playing Aqualung and all seem genuinely interested in broadcasting music they care about – it has something of the frontier spirit about it. And Height Ashbury.
That sounds like it was sponsored by the radio plugger.

Anyway, afterwards we head off to Joes Pub, which isn’t a pub but a tiny jazz bar with padded walls that is staffed by some of the most uptight people I have ever met. On the way we drop Matt off to see a doctor, who tells him he has bronchitis and that he shouldn’t fly or use his voice too much. Normally he would be delighted to have his illness vindicated so thoroughly, but unfortunately he is genuinely worried that he won’t get through the gig. Everyone has been very understanding, but it’s been gently rammed home that it’s VERY IMPORTANT TO PLAY WELL TONIGHT. We have also lost the melodica somewhere between here and Seattle. And that’s half of our act.

And did I mention that the hotel is shitty?

The gig is strange. It’s at 7pm which is alarmingly early, and there are little tables at the edge of the stage at which people are eating their dinner. The strangest thing is the absolute silence, which is broken only by the sound of people putting their cutlery down very…. carefully…
Matt’s voice is better than this morning, but it’s still noticeably ragged. Once again Foolishness rises to fill the quality gap. I can’t tell you how much we’re relying on our adorable accents.
Then our first American tour is over, and there is a giant scrum around Matt and everyone says “it’s such a shame, but you made it” and the stars dance in our eyes and I tread in a freezing puddle while I’m packing the van."

P.S. In addition to the debut cd, there is a six track ep available exclusively at iTunes that features six tracks that are not included on Strange and Beautiful. Not to make light of the man being sick, but re-reading the above it somehow struck me as funny to read that Aqualung had bronchitis; the Brits have a strong current of irony in their humour so I trust he would not be offended by this.

Aqualung's U.K. Website
Aqualung's Sony Website


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