Saturday, 20 December 2008

Herman Dune, the Deaf Institute, Saturday December 13

Often, a Herman Dune gig is a rambling event, loosely held together by the magnetic force of front man David Ivar Herman Dune’s slightly oddball personality. Tonight, he’s more subdued, more professional. He’s smartened up his act, wearing a tucked in shirt, tie, trousers and hat rather than the baggy, mismatched, primary colour clothes of old. The rest of the band have caught on to the new look; it’s almost as if there is a band uniform of hats and moustaches.

It's common to leave a Herman Dune gig feeling as if you’ve spent some time inside David Ivar’s sweetly upside down head, participated in his skewed romances and shared in his cartoonish take on life, but this evening's set is more focused, not at the mercy of wherever David Ivar’s easily distracted mind takes it. The only anecdote he has to share with us this time is an outing to Johnny Roadhouse’s musical instruments emporium down the road to buy a ukulele, which is later stroked expressively.

Herman Dune's fragile folk, built round David Ivar’s high, wiry, slightly vulnerable voice, is beefed up by the John Natchez Bourbon Horn Players, who add loud solos to Herman Dune’s quirky songs.

Next Year in Zion, title track of the new album, is a jaunty party tune, horns toot tooting. On a Saturday is one of the loveliest they’ve ever made, rasping horns borrowing heavily from Elvis’ Always on My Mind and backing singers the Baby Skins swooning in the background like fallen angels.

They still retain a sense of melancholy and rootlessness though, wood blocks clip clopping like horses hooves over Herman Dune’s characteristic trotting rhythm on the yearning My Home is Nowhere Without You. Drummer Neman, in a cap and waistcoat, looks like a weary traveller pulling out a saw at the side of the road for the evening's entertainment, hitting it theatrically with a beater for an expressive, rising and falling solo.

Ballad My Baby is Afraid of Sharks and a breakneck rendition of 1, 2, 3, 4 Apple Tree, horns substituted for wispy flutes, show they’re still searching for the perfect love affair.

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