For Pierre de Gaillande to be playing in just two bands means he must be busy with other things – there was a point when he was playing art-rock with Melomane, and the Snow, and doing more of an indie thing in Morex Optimo, and also getting his Bad Reputation project, which does English-language versions of Georges Brassens songs, off the ground. Last night at Union Hall, de Gaillande and co-bandleader/keyboardist Hilary Downes led the Snow through a haunting, somewhat stripped-down set of material from throughout the band’s career. To the songs’ credit, they sounded practically as lush with just acoustic guitar, keys, violin and trumpet as they do in their more lavish studio guise.
The show opened on a quietly intense, brooding note with Russians, a snidely allusive look back at the less desirable aftereffects of perestroika: “Mama I’m home, mama I’m sick, I ate too much candy, sucked too much liquor,” went the punchline. The band ended it with a long, creepy walk down the scale, ending with a single ominously sustained spaghetti western guitar chord. They followed that with a new song, a slow, steady, nocturnal art-rock ballad sung by Downes. True Dirt, an elegant chamber pop tune about getting messy – metaphorically, at least – kicked off with a big flamencoesque trumpet/guitar intro.
Downes sang the melancholy, metaphorically bristling Undertow with a richly nuanced, Julie London torchiness over the steady insistence of the guitar, the trumpet adding an unexpected jauntiness. They followed with a late Beatlesque art-folk ballad, its distantly aching atmosphere enhanced by Karl Meyer’s austere violin lines.
But everything wasn’t so serious. Union Hall for some reason has become a magnet for amusing cover bands – there’ll be a couple doing twisted Hall & Oates and Dionne Warwick covers here on Halloween – and in keeping with that theme, Downes hammed it up – but just a little – by closing with a surprisingly plaintive version of Olivia Newton-John’s Hopelessly Devoted to You. Whatever you might think of ex-model pop singers, John Farrar – who wrote most of ONJ’s songs -wasn’t a bad tunesmith. It says a lot about the Snow that they’d be able to make something substantial out of one of them.