Sweet Billy Pilgrim
St Mary’s Church, Guildford
***** (FIVE) stars
There was a joyful reunion when Sweet Billy Pilgrim returned to Guildford. The band opened with the storming Candle, Book and Bell. Complex rhythms, beautifully crafted songs and soaring vocal harmonies filled the natural acoustics of the church. The band said before the gig that it was brilliant to play in a church as it was “built for voices” and added an extra acoustic number to the setlist as a consequence.
Fast Forward to the Freeze Frame ended with a funky riff after which lead singer Tim Elsenberg joked “all roads lead to disco, the church of disco.”
Critically acclaimed but mystifyingly yet without the commercial success to match, the band was asked by its manager to write a “hit” song and Just Above Midtown is the result, which Tim delighted in telling the audience that the manager “hated” but they certainly loved playing it, with Barney Muller providing the powerhouse rhythm guitar and Dan Garland excelling on keyboards. A driving force behind the band is drummer Alistair Hamer, who hardly played a straight 4/4 beat all night and epitomises the creative and imaginative nature of the group.
A change since the last time the band played the same venue two years ago is the vocal prominence of Jana Carpenter, who took the lead with a mesmerising version of Tyrekickers. For a band that demonstrates such perfection in its recordings there were several tracks which even sounded better live, a surprise to this reviewer, including Tyrekickers and Slingshot Grin.
Several times the band impressed with three part harmonies from Elsenberg, Carpenter and bassist Anthony Bishop. None more so than when the three of them performed a beautiful acoustic version of Blue Sky Falls amongst the audience. The band ended with the powerful Kracklite and returned for a second encore.