Wild Belle at Cargo
Wild Belle have been subtly garnering an online buzz, and you could feel it in the air at the Cargo. Playing in the stomping ground of all the modern British indie greats is always somewhat daunting for young Americans, but for one so ingrained in both modern British soul (Amy Winehouse) and classic Trojan Records Rock Steady, it must represent something of an ultimate test. And it is the band’s embracing of reggae’s musical skeleton that will ultimately define them.
The name hints at the band’s sound, twisting the pioneering early-60s ska label, while highlighting the persona of the group’s focal point – singer/songwriter Natalie Bergman. Her brother, Elliott, completes the duo, performing the lion’s share of the group’s keyboard duties, while peppering the proceedings with Skatalite-like blasts of baritone sax and thumb-pianos. Their debut, Isles, was a comfortable (if not brilliant) little record of indie-pop gems, sounding like Tame Impala decided to weave reggae and Commodores-like soul into their dreamy psychedelic ethos.
On record, the band felt weighed down by inconsistency. Their catchy reggae-psych pop tunes could be the “sound of summer 2013,” while the tracks devoid of any riddims fail to gel in quite the same way, echoing old news. In concert, however, it was quite the opposite, with the group’s ska songs giving a bad impression. Stripped of studio magic, a white American singing reggae in an overdone grainy “modern soul” voice feels less like an ingenious marriage of genres, and more like a butchering of a beloved style. Conversely, the group’s reggae-free tracks that felt beleaguered on tape came to life in concert, filled with dynamic drama. The finest moments came when their front woman would step back a little, allowing more room for “the music”.
It seems as if every band needs a “thing” and Wild Belle’s thing is reggae. It works on record, but doesn’t quite cut it live. Most compelling was perhaps When It’s Over, the sole cut with lead vocals from Elliott. Exchanging the titular wild belle for her brother’s looming Nick Cave-esque presence and toned-down delivery gave the music room to breathe, the slice of soulful pop simply able to be just that. Wild Belle managed to be less than the sum of their parts, but it won’t take much for them to turn this near miss into a big hit.
Photo: Roger Ho
Wild Belle’s debut album, Isles, came out on 12th March. Find out more here.
Watch the video for It’s Too Late here