6th February 2020

Vetiver @ 81 Renshaw | Gig Review

‘I like giving something that rewards attention’, explains Vetiver’s front (and, at the moment, only) man to me on the topic of playing live, and during his performance in Liverpool in December, he more than fulfilled this goal. A bubbly and unassuming audience walked into 81 Renshaw, and a quietly stunned one walked out, sedated by the soft stillness of Vetiver’s music.

The Vibe and Venue

The venue itself was the perfect accompaniment to Vetiver’s understated style. As nothing more than a small room with a few tables at the edge, the simplicity of the place seemed to reflect the sound which was soon to be played in it. The small venue was not just a perk but a necessity, with Vetiver’s subtlety demanding intimacy and closeness to be fully appreciated. As Cabic said in interview with me back in November, smaller gigs allow for a performer/audience to be connected compared to bigger venues’, and for one man on stage alone with his guitar, this connection was required.

Support Act Review

Opening for Vetiver was British folk-rock trio ‘Treetop flyers’, instantly earning the audience’s complete attention. Aside from the drunken self-nominated backing vocalists in the audience, who somehow managed to learn the lyrics by time the chorus was sung once and made sure everyone knew about it, the audience was held in a captivated silence. Soothing us with hypnotic guitar solos and the tranquilising undercurrent of the keyboard, Treetop flyers left the audience a slightly dazed bunch, hushed and ready for Vetiver.

Vetiver’s Performance

Vetiver opened the set with a cover of Bobby Charles’ ‘I must be in a good place now’, beautifully executed even without the electric guitar and piano which characterise the original, and the audience seemed almost stunned into a trance (even the drunken singers from earlier seemed almost to sober up after 10 seconds of Cabic’s melodic strumming).

Following with similarly peaceful acoustics, much of which being taken from his latest album, ‘To who knows where’, the tranquillity established at the start was held, the only disturbance being an argument among audience members which broke out and, due to the size of the venue, could not be ignored and did lose Cabic some of the energy he’d built up.

As the set continued, the songs performed were much of the same ilk- acoustic, understated and mild, and for Cabic performing alone there was little else he could do. As he told me in November, Cabic had only played two shows alone before this UK tour, and Liverpool marked his fourth. He discussed his nervousness at the prospect of this, but his inexperience of playing alone did not come through. Beautifully sung and perfectly played, Vetiver’s performance was executed with the precision of a master, with no hint that he was out of his comfort zone. When it came to his simplest acoustic tracks, Cabic’s show could have been a Top of the Pops style mime to the recording job in its perfect replication of the studio recording. Beautiful and gentle as it was, however, the set would have benefited with the variation Cabic alone could not have brought, and while his performance was flawless musically, something more was needed to revitalise the energy in the room at times. The audience were content, greeting the music with rhythmic head-bobbing and the occasional sway, but Vetiver’s unvarying performance earned him little more.

Replenishing spirits towards the end was the lively ‘Palm trees in the wind’, coming like a shot of adrenaline straight to the audience. The head-bobbers bobbed with increased vigour and all eyes were on Cabic. With the final song, ‘You may be blue’, Vetiver left us somewhere in the Midwest, sun beating down and grain fields rolling out for miles. Twangy and breezy, this track was a much needed energetic and seemingly joyful conclusion to the set, while the lyrics distilled a darker poignancy; ‘Blood filled where we passed through blood red with wrath’, sings Cabic as he playfully finger picks his acoustic.

I first listened to Vetiver travelling back to Liverpool from home, and was made instantly aware of what good ‘train music’ (going by the official definition) it makes for. Travelling (head on window, pensive look on face etc.) with the lyrics ‘The long road calling me to who knows where’, you cannot help but be lulled into a place of meditation and reflection as you stare longingly out the window (even, as in my case, when you know full well where the long road is taking you, limiting the authenticity of your cinematic moment somewhat).

Instant tranquility for the agitated mind, Vetiver offers serenity and perspective with a beautifully understated sound. Whether this sound can hold up for a full live set is something his 81 Renshaw gig brought into question, but other than the need for slight variation of the tone, the night could not be flawed. Cabic gave a stunning performance and demonstrated his excellency as a musician, leaving us a peaceful audience, touched by the still beauty and honesty of his music.