Into the Pit: 141: Bitter Ruin – Live at The Borderline – 10-July 2012

I think it took me a little while to come around to Bitter Ruin in the first place, but to be fair, the first time around I only saw a couple of songs as we got there late. The second time around, again supporting Amanda Palmer, there was no such mistake, and for their short set they were enthralling.

Bitter Ruin
Jack Wiseman
Live @ The Borderline, London W1
10 July 2012

So after missing out on a couple of sold-out shows since, this was finally an opportunity to see the duo again, and to see how they have developed. In fact, in the nine months since, they have released a single that got them some celebrity fans (more in a moment), and are swiftly gaining a whole legion of new fans, as a near-sold out show here proved nicely.

Quite a few of said gig-goers actually made it in time for support act Jack Wiseman, too. He had a warm response, broadly, although I really couldn’t abide his vocal style, with lots of wavering notes and…well, overdoing it. When he plays it straight his voice is pretty good, which made it all the more infuriating. Despite it being just him and a guitar, he does a good job of making it feel like more, particularly the shape throwing and acoustic riffage, which made it look like he was playing along with an invisible band that only existed in his head. One I’ll maybe come back to sometime.

Anyway, onto the main event. Trying to describe Bitter Ruin‘s sound is actually pretty difficult, but at base level they are a female/male duo, who use one guitar, and two voices. And from this really quite basic, age-old setup, they have managed to create a style that both harks back to the past and also is strikingly different, particularly in these times.

How is this? I think the best word to use to describe them is dramatic. Georgia and Ben both clearly have a background that was open to rather more in the way of influences than just pop music, so songs often don’t quite go where you might expect, and Georgia’s quite astonishing vocal range is often used to the full extent.

A total of seven new songs were played during the set, too, which really did show just how their sound is still being developed. Notable amongst these were the most immediate of them, Ticker Don’t Tock, and then the real star of the new material, a song that I’m guessing is called Gentleman. A song of burning intensity, like most of Bitter Ruin’s songs it is laced with betrayal, loss and regret, but made all the more amazing by – even by her standards – Georgia’s jaw-dropping vocal acrobatics. The new album really must come sooner rather than later.

Bitter Ruin setlist:
Ticker Don’t Tock
Child In The Sea Cave
The Vice
A Brand New Me [featuring Matt Lucas]
Time Doesn’t Heal
Gentle Man
Soundproof Box
Tom Thumb
Chewing Gum

There was no lack of old songs, either, even if a few seemed to have been elbowed out of the set by the new material. Trust still amazes in particular for the interweaving vocals in the chorus, while The Vice, a song apparently sung through gritted teeth, still blazes with fury. The set closed with Beware, a song whose lyrics read as a cautionary tale about the both of them, and this idea was taken further between songs with chatty banter between the duo and the crowd, jokes particularly about no-one daring to heckle Georgia, which going on the odd withering put-down, seems the right way to go!

Anyway, about those famous friends. One of them is the comedian Matt Lucas, who has made a point of promoting the band to his own fans in various ways on the internet. And intriguingly, recent work in musicals enabled him to end up working with Bitter Ruin, and joining them onstage here to assist with A Brand New Me. Impressively, he really can sing, and didn’t sound out of place whatsoever – although did seem genuinely nervous (and that little bit starstruck!) before settling down to sing. Still, a marvellous gesture from both sides.

With the duo being done with their main set quite early on – by not long after 2130 – there was ample time for an encore, and we were duly rewarded by being offered the chance to request songs. Various suggestions were rebuffed before the haunting Soundproof Box was aired, along with another of those new songs, but much of the crowd had been baying for one particular song (as had I, to myself at least). So it was that Chewing Gum closed out the night, easily my favourite song that the band have written, and it was delivered here with all the bile and hatred that Georgia could muster. Which, for a song apparently about moving on from the past and ditching those elements that caused pain, apparently is an awful lot. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – her vocal extremes here are the closest I’ve heard to the brilliance of Diamanda Galas.

It wasn’t hard to feel that this was almost a farewell from Bitter Ruin to the tiny venues of old. They seem to have amassed a fair army of dedicated fans now, and the new songs really do suggest a step forward – particularly as the older songs all seemed to have gained a new lease of life here too. Bigger, better, stronger?

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