To Kill A King @ Jericho Tavern – 09/10/11

Well, congrats, Oxford. The headliner tonight at The Jericho Tavern was Leeds-to-London band To Kill a King, but it was your very own Spring Offensive who really slayed it with a stripped-down set that was in no way lacking. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First to take the stage tonight were Juan Zelada and his band, six guys in all. It was a hell of a way to kick of Communion night—if you’ll pardon the turn of phrase. Gotta say, the larger-than-usual opening act audience seemed to love these soul-popsters, and it wasn’t long before I began to think of the super-spirited Spanish frontman as Juan the Baptist preacher, whipping the congregation into a bit of a frenzy with tight, tenacious tunes like ‘The Blues Remain’ and ‘What Do I Know’. With horns, guitars, keyboards and drums all in the frisky, funky mix, you could make a case for some softer moments, but then you’d pretty much have another Jack Johnson.

Next up were Wide Sea, three statuesque brothers and cousin from Germany, who lamentably, had had their drums stolen. Harmonizing smoothly with no trace of a German accent, they have a subtle, summery, modern-day Everly Brothers sort of sound, which was apparently under-appreciated in the land of Einstürzende Neubauten and Atari Teenage Riot, hence the London relocation. Hopefully, as my favourite song of theirs goes, they have found ‘A Place to Call Home’. And hopefully, they will get some new drums soon.

Playing without their drum kit on purpose for this evening, Spring Offensive confidently ascended the stage and took control of the Tavern. This five-piece deftly navigate both ardent emotion and careful restraint. After a few captivating numbers, frontman Lucas Whitworth confesses that the percussionless performance “feels a bit naked… in a good way.” For my part, the nudity as it were provided a refreshing reminder of just how ambitious and clothed in layers of talent this band really is. Faves included ‘The Cable Routine’, ‘I Found Myself Smiling’ and the opener ‘A Stutter and a Start’. Spring Offensive should be commended for their uncanny instinct for unfolding intensity. Serious as sin–they could have kept playing as far as I was concerned.

Not that I wasn’t looking forward to To Kill A King. From what I’d heard in songs like ‘Fictional State’ and ‘Bloody Shirt’ the indie-for-now quintet seemed to be capable narrative lyricists and it’s difficult to not be charmed by their wistful take on ‘Maps’ by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (which they didn’t end up playing by the way). I think they should have opened with one of those offerings instead of ‘Cold Skin’ – it’s a straightforward, full-of-feeling song, but after the raw sincerity of Spring Offensive, it didn’t pack as much of a poignant punch. ‘Wrecking Crew’ however, more than made up for it; there’s nothing mellow about the drama in that song, and the acoustic version is even more haunting. TKAK have a lot going for them – Ralph Pelleymounter’s distinct, effortless vocals, well-timed harmonies, big blooming choruses and a humble demeanour that makes you root for them. However, it was still Spring Offensive who usurped the throne at this, the first of many promisingly well-attended events from Communion in Oxford. But after hearing 20, count ’em 20 guys in a night, here’s hoping for some female performers next time!