What looked like it was going to be a slow Sunday night at the Studio Theatre in Brighton Komedia quickly turned into one of the busiest shows that I had seen at this little venue in a long time. The lightning rod drawing people in? A piano solo set from Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor. The stage was set up sparsely, with a black upright piano on the right-hand side of the stage, leaving a small sampler and plenty of space on the left. As the audience meandered in before the show started, it all looked set for a lovely evening..until the support band started playing.
The opening act was a duo who played long reverb-laden dirges for around 30 minutes. The piano was pleasant at times but the electronic backdrop from the sampler of sweeping noises, drum machines and vocal samples did not seem to fit with the piano and vocals. The levels were way too loud, so even sitting at the back of the room with earplugs in, the noise was still quite overpowering. Playing in a venue with 50-100 people does not call for the level of reverb that you would expect in an arena show. The effect was a cacophony of sound that detracted away from any merits that their songwriting may have deserved. Possibly their recordings are much better, but as a live act, unfortunately, they were one of the worst that I have seen in a very long time.
Following the intermission, Alexis Taylor took to the stage to win over the somewhat perplexed crowd. From his first track, it was clear why the audience had come, although the levels were once again a bit on the loud side, which is totally unnecessary for a venue of that size. His first song was quite drab and drawn out but did seem to gain some momentum by the end, however, the la la la’s in the refrain seemed more like forgotten lyrics than meaningful musings.
As the set continued, I warmed up to his style of playing; his rendition of the Hot Chip track ‘White Wine & Fried Chicken’ was great, really catchy and lyrically intriguing, and his Win Win song ‘Interleave’ was quite heartfelt and warm with sweeping synth sounds emerging from his sampler. As the show continued, it felt very much like theme and variation on the same song, with all of the tracks following a down-tempo melancholic pattern that didn’t seem to have an awful lot of substance to it. His vocals were quite fragile in places, which may be his style, but they came across as a little pitchy in places and felt a little on the weak side.
All that said, it is an incredibly brave thing to do to play a solo piano show, particularly in a time when even superstar singer-songwriters like Ed Sheeran can sound pretty amateurish during their live performances without the studio wizardry to back him up.
However, I don’t think that Alexis Taylor will go down in history with Elton John, Chris Martin or Billy Joel as being one of the great piano balladeers of our time.