Jonquil @ O2 Academy Oxford – 25/05/12

Homecoming gigs can be a funny thing – under the right circumstances they feel positively victorious, all wall-to-wall smiles and high-fives, both metaphorical and physical. Sometimes however, they can feel strange to the uninitiated, like an in-joke between friends who have no intention of sharing. Being a relative outsider to the close-knit Oxford scene I have often feared the latter, but to the credit of the bands involved it’s never really happened. Never has this been truer than with Jonquil, a band so joyful that Jonah himself would be hard pushed not to crack a smile in their presence.

Tonight finds them in high spirits and on top form and, after a day of what I’ve heard several attendees describe as “perfect Jonquil weather”, proceedings begin in earnest with ‘Real Cold’, a vaguely soft-rock number from 2011’s Point of Go that melts into the kind of warm, satisfying chorus that Jonquil does best. It’s this characteristic warmth that, for me at least, what makes Jonquil what they are.

Though barely recognisable as the band that penned local folk anthems ‘Lions’ and ‘Magdalen Bridge’, let alone 2006’s distinctly hazy acoustic affair ‘Sunny Casinos’, there’s an ambiguous, appealing something that holds it all together under the same moniker. Tonight’s setlist is assembled from post-‘split’ (for want of a better word) material and, as wildly different as it is from the band’s origins, they’ve never sounded stronger. Hugo Manuel’s characteristic vocal, recently showcased in his excellent Chad Valley project, soars above triumphant trumpets and glowing guitar notes to great effect.

True to the love that makes the local music ‘scene’ what it is, ex-Jonquil (now Trophy Wife) band members are present and correct and dance every bit as hard as everyone else when the sublime ‘Mexico’ gets its airing, a tune whose tropical charms are so irresistible that even the most steadfast pint-nursers are involuntarily compelled to shake their hips. Via more of the same, a couple of slower numbers and a cover of the xx’s ‘Infinity’ (the Jonquil version sounds a bit more human to these ears) the show reaches its climax: the positively clamoured-for, destined-to-be-an-encore encore of ‘It Never Rains’. In Jonquil’s world I can quite believe it never does.