Adem, Adrian Crowley, Ally Craig

Alex Worsnip 18/05/2006

This night of singer-songwriters is certainly an atypical gig, with punters sitting on the floor in a kind of fuzzy reverie, often totally silent to catch every subtlety of the quiet music. It's a chilled-out atmosphere, warm and inviting, somehow nostalgic for a bygone era before the onset of scenesters, irony and post-punk; just good beer, friendship and three men with guitars.

It has to be said that the first thing you notice about Ally Craig is the fact that he's in a wheelchair and plays guitar on his lap. But more importantly, he has a beautiful voice, and writes appealing and warm songs with a certain aching beauty to them, if a bit of a sixth form turn to the lyrics. His acoustic sound is lovely, which makes it baffling why he insists on tired, rather conventional rock arrangements in his recorded music: he should capture his live sound instead and give the songs the room to breathe they're afforded here. Adrian Crowley is Adem's touring partner and makes music that ploughs a darker singer-songwriter furrow, one that draws on the black romanticism of, for example, Nick Cave. His voice isn't especially distinctive, nor is the music especially original, but by the end of his set he's lulled everyone into the kind of state such that it can be appreciated anyway.

By far the most mature and developed songwriter on display tonight, though, is headliner Adem, whose new album 'Love And Other Planets' is one of the best records of the year so far, full of beautiful songs that exude hope, love and sadness in equal measure, through a space travel metaphor writ large. In this intimate and warm setting, in which Adem bleeds a kind of quiet charisma that, along with his fragile yet powerful vocals, mesmerises the crowd. Songs like the upbeat, aching yet hopeful 'Something's Going To Come' and 'These Are Your Friends' bring an instant smile to the face. It's a real emotional experience, and as the gig goes on you can see that everyone, the band included, is realising that this is a particularly special evening. The gorgeous, sparse 'Crashlander' is dedicated to 'everyone's who's ever had to run away', while 'Launch Yourself' and 'You And Moon' highlight the slightly more experimental vein of new material. What's particularly refreshing is how at ease with his backing band members Adem appears, and how close they all appear, enhancing the kind of hippy commune vibe that descends upon the venue, as they add cute percussion which gives the music a quirky edge. For the last few tracks, they come down off the stage and play purely acoustically, with no amplification, a testament both to Adem's quiet aesthetic and to the reverence of the crowd, such that you could hear a pin drop. It involves the audience, and breaks the fourth wall in a way that is engaging and touching. And somehow, unlikely as it might seem, it's one of the greatest gigs I've seen. And all the while I've been seated.