The Bees are back! Returning to Oxford after their storm of a gig in April, Julie Ann Baenziger and co. flew all the way to The Jericho Tavern from Sacramento, CA, for another crack at it.
The buzzing, vibrant atmosphere inside the Tavern was a comfortable contrast to the autumn mist lingering outside on a dank Saturday night. First up tonight was our very own Oxford singer-songwriter, Phil McMinn, who we hoped would take advantage of the great turnout at a home gig.
Sadly, he did not. McMinn instead was a bit of a disappointment tonight. I’ve seen him do much better sets before; his special brand of cardigan rock, gurning, and whiney yelps didn’t really pan out well. The overall impression was that his songs blended into one another, with a filmy backing echo accompanying his guitar and a general sense of blandness. It was a shame, since he’d started off so promisingly and he has the vocal talent to carry him a long way. His songs just came off a little weedy and thin on the night.
Despite a few walkouts, we persisted for Barbarossa – who were pretty spectacular. Through their addictive electronic cuts and loops, Barbarossa managed to lift the crowd from the bar to the front. Singer James Mathé’s stripped-back vocals and piercing eyes made the intense crescendos during songs such as ‘Stones’ all the more powerful (despite having to repeatedly make an awkward reach to the synths). It was nicely crafted electronic music, chilled, and a top warm-up act for the next. Mathé and his drummer Ben Brown created just the right sort of atmosphere for the Jericho – not too over-the-top and showy, but not too non-committal or intense either.
Finally, after hearing the first bar of ‘Skinnybone’, and several beery old scroats shouting “we love you Jules!!” at the top of their voices, we rushed to the front to catch our favourite alternative folk-pop hipsters (or something like that), Sea of Bees.
Seeing Julie Ann Baezinger live on stage is quite a shocking thing; it would be an understatement to say that she has an arresting stage presence. I think the thing that makes her such a peculiar performer is how unexpected it is that such a pure, childlike voice could come out of her. To illustrate my point, she goes from chatting onstage in a mumbling, Californian drawl about her cat, to arguing with Am, her backing singer, about her moods and the NHS, to belting out some of the most forlorn melodies about heartbreak and despair. Her knack of intertwining this quirky charm with anguish and pain in songs such as ‘Girl’ is quite remarkable. After standing in stunned silence to her incredible solo performance of ‘The Woods’, everyone was cheering for several encores, to which she predictably obliged.
The only way I could fault the gig is that, although the band’s performance was pretty top-notch and ultimately fun, some of Baenzinger’s songs are intrinsically weak and a little too whimsical (a bit cringeworthy to hear on CD too – just listen to ‘Blind’).
However weak and pale her recorded songs are in comparison to their emotionally-charged, intense, live renditions, it must be said that this was a cracking night. I would highly recommend watching Sea of Bees live, if only to have a laugh at Baenziger’s between-song banter.