The Lexington – May 30th

England and France have a long history of artists fleeing to each other’s shores in exile. Famously, Oscar Wilde went to escape the scandal caused by his imprisonment for gross indecency with men in 1895. Further back, in 1726, the Enlightenment writer and troublemaker to the establishment, Voltaire, fled to London after falling out of favour with a powerful aristocratic family who had hoped for his permanent imprisonment in the Bastille. Given the esteemed company, I’ve often wondered whether this gave much comfort to Brian Christinzio, a.k.a BC Camplight, while he lived in Paris after being banned from the UK, his home of 4 years. Not much, one assumes, unless you’re an utter twat.

Christinzio makes light of his predicament when he returns to the stage for his first full-live show in London since his period in exile. “A year late, sorry”, he quips as settles down to his keyboard, “your government ain’t fucking around.” This entirely depends on your definition of ‘fucking around’, but that’s beside the point.

It was after a difficult period in Philadelphia that the American native made a rash-but-necessary move to Manchester on the advice of a fan on Facebook. After a failed record deal, battles with drink, drugs and depression, he found a new band, record deal with Bella Union, fiancé and new life in the city. But, before the record’s release, Christinzio was taken ill and left unable to travel, preventing him from leaving the country in time to renew his visa. Having technically overstayed, he was banned from returning to the UK. After over a year of appealing, reconciliation with the UK Government finally came in March and resulted in a new visa. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

It’s easy to buy into the folklore of a band, but it doesn’t really feel shallow in the case of BC Camplight. The audience are genuinely delighted by his appearance – which tonight is mostly covered by sunglasses and a hat, because he’s insecure, he insists – and it’s a triumphant, ramshackle show.

Backed by five musicians on the tiny Lexington stage, it might have been tempting to opt for a smaller set up for both financial and spacial advantages. This, though, would have been to the great detriment of the show. I can only guess that the band used some sort of blood magic backstage to pull off the production on BC Camplight’s breakthrough album, How To Die In The North, a murmuration that bends and folds, expands and disappears with breathtaking ease and precision. ‘You Should Have Gone To School’ packs a punch as an opening number, while ‘Just Because I Love You’ softens the blow even if the lyrics tell a more visceral tale of heartbreak. The band are in good spirits, which makes it all the more enjoyable and adds a feeling of release. But then again, that might have something to do with it being Monday evening on a bank holiday weekend.

Much has been made of the HTDITN‘s 60s-inspired pop-meets-psychedelia, and while the average age of the audience here might support these conclusions, Tame Impala make for a more contemporary comparison tonight; nothing about this music feels like it should be living in another time. If anything, Christinzio has a propensity to go completely off-piste into a different world, as demonstrated by a new track so expansive and meandering – even by Christinzio’s standards – it feels like 4 different songs rolled into one.

Elsewhere, a steaming version of ‘Grim Cinema’ rattles through like a runaway train, while a solo rendition of the piano-led ‘Atom Bomb’ is both a beautiful display of musicianship and stunning reminder of what we might have missed had he not taken that fateful flight to Manchester. Welcome back, Brian. Please don’t leave us again, yeah?

BC Camplight – How To Die In The North
January 5, 2015 – Bella Union
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