1 September 2018
A transcendent pair of acts – Beth Rowley and Eliza Shaddad – at The Mash House tonight captivate the crowd with swaggering soulful splendour
Published in The Skinny
To a dutiful audience, Eliza Shaddad opens with a lone-wolf set, but despite her lack of a backing pack, she floods the room with sweeping sonics that arrest the audience from note one. Shaddad’s debut album Future is on the brink of release, and the new numbers she performs permeate with the subdued timbre of post-rock. Her guitar’s palette of reverb and distortion creates a textured soundscape through which her impassioned lyrics wander.
My Body unfolds steadily, ramping up its anxious aura before coming to a rolling boil. Her softly spoken interludes – where she goads the audience into advancing stageward – are in stark contrast to the folky-fires of her tunes. With Waters, her vocals yowl against a raging guitar as she teeters on her tiptoes toward the mic with scrunched eyes, visibly stoking her flame with gallons of fuel from deep within.
Beams of amber cut through a smoky veil as Beth Rowley emerges to a fuzzing frequency that segues into Howl at the Moon. Its roving bassline, greasily-distorted guitar, driving drums and vehement vocals immediately display their bluesy seventies swagger. Toss into the mix Rowley’s high-waisted double denim garb and cascading curls, and it's as if a window into the past has been opened.
A handful of cuts pass before contact is made with the crowd. The darkened stage coupled with Rowley and bandmates' mysterious guise paints them as a band of outlaws, making ends meet on the run by wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Who doesn’t have love for sensitive rogues? However, the veneer is shattered when Rowley finally pipes up and we're given a glimpse of her demure disposition. The pride she shows for her music is evident from the stories she tells of how the preceding songs came to be.
British-raised Rowley spent her upbringing listening to the sounds of America’s Deep South, she says, and it's without any doubt among us that this has stood her in good stead. A cover of Jessie Mae Hemphill’s Go Back to Your Used to Be flaunts the band’s intoxicating grasp of the Delta Blues. The range of Rowley’s voice can float anywhere between melodic memory and strutting bravado, but always burgeoning with a soulful might.
Joe Harvey-Whyte’s pedal steel gives them a tender country backbone, its reverberating metallic whale song meanders through the set on a gentle current, although often at odds with the power of the other four. The title track from Rowley’s new album, Gota Fría – a Spanish storm capable of a devastating deluge – is the perfect coalescence between the five of them. Their depiction of a swelling squall from the beauty of its brewing destruction by way of ethereal vocals, to the accelerating rumble of tom hits as dark clouds take reign of the sky, paves the way for the thundering malevolence of Rob Updegraff’s guitar, before finally dispersing into a static haze conjured by the waxing and waning pedal steel. Escaping their wrath is impossible, but why would you want to?