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The last time Juliana played in London I got to sit in luxurious seats at the 2,500 capacity Royal Festival Hall.

On Friday I got to stand in the back room of a Hackney pub.

This, like the bonus free Minor Alps show in the same city to follow two days later, was a sell out. Small venues for sure, but still good to see a couple of full capacity shows in the UK's capital for Juliana and Matthew's project.

The support at this Shacklewell Arms show came from Lilliput - Sunderland lads with nice harmonies. Maybe a bit too Mumfordy for my taste, but unless they push it too far and add banjos I'll be looking out for more from them.

This was my first live experience of Minor Alps.

If you've read the reports from their US shows at the end of last year (including Carsten's recent post), the format remains; Juliana plays acoustic guitar or keyboard with Matthew also on guitar and occasional backing track (such as the beats on 'Away Again') via his MacBook.

I hope I get to see Juliana play with a full band again one day (I haven't since 1995!) but Minor Alps is totally suited to this acoustic / keys set up, with only a couple of the most Nadary Surfery songs in the set sounding as if they could benefit from the electric treatment.

The guitar work is often excellent but vocals are key to the Minor Alps experience. Matthew and Juliana's voices blend so well together as we've all heard on Get There. In the live arena this is even more evident. Experience it if you can.

Now including a lovely cover of 'Bette Davis Eyes', the setlist is similar to the US shows too, which meant that in addition to most of Get There I got to hear a certain 'Live On Tomorrow'.

Also, we had two of Matthew's favourite Juliana songs in Candy Wrappers (with Caws on lead vocals), and a Blake Babies classic in Out There.

Juliana sang the latter with the same energy as she did 25 years ago, reinforcing my feeling that the Blake Babies should be talked about with the same reverence as afforded their peers. Dinosaur Jr influenced guitar pop rules. Always.

The actual Minor Alps songs were well received. 'Away Again' remains my favourite from the album, together with Matthew's 'I Don't Know What To Do With My Hands'.

Shacklewell Arms has a limited stage / backstage area which gave us a bit of fun waiting for M & J to come back for their encore. Juliana 'hid' behind a partition wall during this traditional gig charade, giving us the odd wave for a minute or two.

 

I had only made plans to go to this one show but as soon as it was over, I had second thoughts. Juliana live shows in Europe are a rare thing and you never know if you'll get another opportunity. The excellence of the performance led to some last minute arrangements and the next evening I was doing it all again in Brighton. I'm so glad I did.

The Bermuda Triangle is a small, newish venue on the seafront, yards from the beach. It's an unusually narrow hall, housed within one of the arches along the promenade. In the dark, it's like being in a railway tunnel.

The support was from Brighton based Seadog aka Mark Benton, featuring Hayley Savage - an exceptionally polite and mellow folk duo.

The Minor Alps set followed the same pattern as the previous evening.

I've listened to a fair bit of Nada Surf over the years but can't claim to be a big fan, and Minor Alps is easily my favourite work I've heard from Matthew. (I also find it the most enjoyable music Juliana has made since How To Walk Away).

I enjoyed his performance and his contribution to the Juliana songs, especially on 'Candy Wrappers' (which I might actually prefer to either of Juliana's studio versions) and his singing the last line of 'Live On Tomorrow' works well.

Unlike the shows with Evan which I loved in a different way, every song here is a joint performance and I like what Matthew and Juliana add to each other's songs.

The crowd on both nights were attentive througout, with no background chatter during the songs which can often mar these acousticy events. Well done everyone. You did good.

In London Matthew had asked us to give it a bit of an 'ooh ooh' singalong at the end of the encore closing 'Fruit Fly'. It fell a bit flat to be honest - we're not all that outgoing you see. He got what he wanted in Brighton though without asking us, largely thanks to an enthusiastic Nada Surf fan who got us all joining in, with his, shall we say, imaginative harmonies.

Fair play to this guy (later seen giving Matthew the grizzliest of bear hugs) as he helped give the last few songs and encore a really good atmosphere. The Alps responded too with big smiles, Juliana signing off stage with a shout of 'Brighton Rocks!'

I had such an enjoyable couple of nights and it was great to meet up with faces old and new.

If you get a chance to catch any of the remaining European shows, I'm sure you'll have fun too.

// Craig

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