Valley Maker – The Whig, Columbia, South Carolina: Live Review
Sunday 21st March
Over the past year, some live streams have sought to replicate the concert experience, with gig-style lighting and audience perspective camera angles that make you seem close enough to scrutinise the guitarist’s nostril hair (note – don’t do this at gigs; it’s weird). Those shows have been a great stop-gap, helping to evoke the overwhelming sense of sound, the miasma of sweat and the sociable lack of distancing we’ve been missing.
Some of the shows that we’ve been missing are blissful for their meditative stillness, the kind of show during which even your most irritating gig buddy wouldn’t think of talking. This hour, brought to us by Austin Crane and Amy Godwin, aka Valley Maker, was one of those. It felt somewhat like stumbling across an intimate mid-afternoon set at a post-apocalyptic urban festival: Broad daylight. An eerily empty subterranean bar room with esoteric décor (including a display cabinet of beetles and a caged bird skeleton). The performers’ backdrop was dominated by the chalk board of guest beers that you felt increasingly tempted to sample as the music charmed you, and a jukebox you were eager to scrutinise and feed with your spare change once they’d finished their set.
The more the hour progressed, the more you remembered just how well a sociable drink and a great live tune go together. The empty-handed will surely have pressed pause at some point and headed to the fridge or the kettle for a beverage of choice. Atmospherically, stillness and space were the watch words for this set. The old cliché about potentially hearing a pin drop is (obviously) never more relevant than for in a show in an empty room with one guitar and two subtle voices. But had there been an actual audience of actual human beings present, this would have been ‘shut up and listen’ music.
Understated but sincere joy of playing together for the first time since November 2019 was evident. The relief and privilege of being able to play music, to do the thing they love, was endearing. The stream functioned as an album launch show for When The Day Leaves, the new album released in February (See our review here). Crane and Godwin played the album in sequence, deviating after Aberration (no irony intended, I assume) to insert three older tracks from their albums of 2018, 2015 and 2010: Beautiful Birds Flying, Pretty Little Life Form and Names.
From the album opener, Branch I Bend onwards, it was impressive just how much sound and detail can come from manipulating six strings. The guitar line on Voice Inside The Well became especially hypnotic and enchanting, befitting the notion of ugliness having a day off and peace rising contained within the lyrics. The feeling of peace was amplified with just how at ease both performers seemed – Austin Crane sang and played the majority of notes with eyes closed and Amy Godwin, hands frequently in pockets, minimised movement whilst optimising the effect of her emotive vocals. The blend of voices is just one thing that makes Valley Maker work so well: Crane’s serrated tones saw, in contrast to Godwin’s that soar – smooth, celestial.
There’s a line in the title track, When The Day Leaves, that states, “I was not prepared for the real, living beauty.” The high quality of the stream, from the crisp musicianship to the sharp sound production and mixing meant that this stream exceeded expectation. As a performance, it showcased the new album perfectly. For Valley Maker, it looked like it was all in a day’s work.