An epic bass and drum driven instrumental soundtracks Rhodes’s ominous entrance to the stage. With no lights upon them, it’s hard to tell if this is the masterful work of Rhodes’s four member support band or just some legendary score for that film you’ve always meant to get around to watching sometime, being blasted out the PA. It turned out to be the former. Almost as soon as it began, the atmospheric layers fall away, leaving a spotlight exposed Rhodes, singing gently to the accompaniment of his own hollow-body electric guitar. It’s a dramatic start to say the least, and one that shows a maturity and experience not to be expected of someone who has only been on the scene for two years.
Leading up to this were the support slots of Amy Yon and JP Cooper, both respectively providing solo acoustic sets. Yon enjoyed a fairly quiet crowd and performed well, but it was Cooper who truly did the job of warming the crowd up. His unbelievably incredible vocal tone and ability, shown through his intimate acoustic-soul, silenced the crowd in awe. With his melodic vocal runs filling the Exeter Phoenix to the brim, the crowd were genuinely sad when he announced his final song.
Rhodes, aka David Rhodes, performed with a four-piece band consisting of a fellow electric guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, and a cellist, all of which also contributed backing vocals on most songs. What was most impressive was the sheer professionalism of the whole troupe. The entire set was immaculate, with several full band starts, and continual crescendos of very complex soundscapes. The electric guitarist was particularly skilled at adding atmospheric shimmers, the female cellist provided gorgeous upper register harmonies and the bassist and drummer supported the whole thing by being locked into each other as if controlled by the same puppeteer.
As a group they were not only able to replicate accurately Rhodes’s studio recordings but arguably better them. Many of Rhodes’s songs share a similar mood and structure; this didn’t show as much live because the frontman would regularly alternate between guitar and keyboard, full band and stripped down solo. The set was not jarring either. The spaces in between songs, when guitars needed to be swapped and tuned, were filled by eerie musical passages put forth by the backing band which then smelted seamlessly into the track to follow.
Rhodes is a notoriously powerful vocalist, and this didn’t falter live in Exeter. His voice didn’t once fail, wobble out of tune, or underwhelm in general. Not only technically but emotively, his voice was of a stellar standard. A particularly heartfelt moment was his performance of debut album title track Wishes, which was very emotional indeed. His music is of course all rather intense in terms of mood, which creates a fantastical aura around his performance, but it was also charming to see he does not take himself too seriously. He took the time in between songs to joke with the crowd and entertain a group of girls insisting that he go to Timepiece afterwards. All in all, if his music on record hadn’t already convinced you, Rhodes’s visit to Exeter has definitely demonstrated that he’s one to be on the lookout for in coming years and that our city was incredibly privileged to host him.
Photos by Paul Ramisch.
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