Live Review: The Staves, O2 Institute Birmingham (01/11/2015)

Watford sisters Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor, known as The Staves, are yet to find the fame they undeniably deserve. The family trio have been touring almost non-stop since If I Was, their second album, was released in March 2014 and recently finished supporting Florence & The Machine on their UK tour. They were a pleasure to watch live at Birmingham’s Institute and provided the crowd with a spellbinding performance that highlighted their impeccable vocals and debuted a sound with a more mature inflection.

The Staves were supported by Gabriel Rios, born in Puerto Rico and now living and working in Belgium and New York. Rios was expressive and energetic, and the crowd were quick to fall for his charms, however his voice was neither distinct nor memorable. It was his vocal improvisations and the support of a cello and upright bass player that set his sound apart, and it was the incredibly talented cello player that captivated the crowd rather than Rios. Each song of the thirty minute set, while good, was barely distinguishable from the one that preceded it. His most rousing attempt was his cover of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Child’, which opened his set, and disappointingly it was this iconic track that I remembered once Rios and his band had left the stage. The sound had been a nice warm-up to The Staves but nowhere near rivalled what was to come.

“The stunning harmonies may suggest innocence and purity but The Staves are fighting that image”

The three sisters entered with huge smiles and the crowd was clearly thrilled to welcome them back to Birmingham. The energy was lifted as they launched into ‘White Winter Trees’ and ‘Black & White’, both from 2014 release If I Was. The intimate venue was packed with excited yet enchanted fans who listened intently, drinking in the extraordinary atmosphere. The vocal talents of each of the three Staveley-Taylor sisters are impressive alone, but it is together that they are a powerhouse. Elegant, choral, hymn-like – the harmonies are haunting and unforgettable. The lighting for the whole evening was seriously impressive, setting a serene yet exciting mood and the crowd were delighted with the girls’ genuine thankfulness for the support that has been shown to them in the two years since their second album was released. A cover of ‘Feel’, by Bombay Bicycle Club, was a welcome chance to hear the girls singing something new and they did a fantastic job; it seems the girls can beautify anything they put their harmonies to.

The Staves seem grounded, delightfully honest and genuinely charming. Their personalities shone through their performance: these sisters are not stereotypical feminine, guitar-picking folk singers, they have a clever and biting side too. Their songs have an edge, and If I Was boasts a much rockier sound than their debut album Dead and Born and Grown. The stunning harmonies may suggest innocence and purity but The Staves are fighting that image, and their rendition during the gig of their debut single ‘Mexico’ in a revamped, grown-up form, with a chugging beat and more percussion added on top to the once skeletal song.

“The sound of The Staves has changed, and it is a winning transformation”

Jessica Staveley-Taylor revealed in an interview earlier this year that the girls take inspiration from Joni Mitchell, whose brutally honest lyrics set her apart from a lot of the crooning, girlish vocals of her popular contemporaries. The narrative of If I Was is dark and brooding, the lyric “I couldn’t love you any less than I do now” setting a tone that is fierce rather than romantic. The band and the instruments have adapted too. A new violinist slotted into the ensemble beautifully; Camilla’s surreal use of a foot pedal and Emily’s antique-looking-maybe-its-an-accordion-but-who-knows instrument has changed the sound of The Staves, and it is a winning transformation. The girls, who performed at Glastonbury this year, are poised and ready to sing to the masses, and surely it must be soon that the music world catches onto their enchanting sound. Regardless of whether that happens, they have a dedicated following and fans can only hope that there will be many more years, albums and tours from these stunningly creative girls.

Beth Rowland

Beth is currently listening to ‘Let It All Go’ by Birdy & Rhodes

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Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham's IMPACT Magazine.

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