By: Dave Brooks

Battersea Arts Centre, London | August 3, 2016

Long exiled to the Mancunian night, Jamie Lee – lead singer of lit-pop darlings MONEY – returns to his native South London in high spirits. A poet as well as a musician, he prefaces tonight’s performance with a trademark novel skit, tonight referencing the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald and former American Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Pulling out a crumpled edition from his anorak pocket, Lee rifles through its yellowed pages, struggling to find his marker. Muttering “This is just so me: winging it all the way to the end,” he opens proceedings on a performance that dextrously ties humour, fury, self-awareness and self-parody.

MONEY’s set tonight draws largely from their second album Suicide Songs, released earlier this year on Bella Union. Foregoing the expansive choral indie of 2013’s The Shadow of Heaven, Suicide Songs offered up 43 minutes of much-matured songwriting: each squalid, saintly, savant verse offered with a beatified ale-slurred dexterity. Channelling his finest Shane MacGowan on ‘I’ll Be The Night’, Lee mumbles “No one owes you any favours” with world-weary abandon, before stepping away from the mic to blurt “They only owe you wine.” Later on he recoils from a particularly strong bout of reverb, dashing a look of incredulity to the audience with pure charlatan charm. MONEY’s transition from barstool balladeers to the grand stage is all the more successful for these pub-wrought moments.

Elsewhere MONEY’s performance nods to their savant influences, whilst maintaining a commanding hold over the Battersea Arts Centre’s sold-out crowd. On ‘Hopeless World’ Lee throws in a few giddy Dylan whoops, whilst ‘Letter To Yesterday’ descends into gutsy echoes of “Oh there’s blo-od;” a rousing reminder of the conviction and fervour U2 held before ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Beautiful Day’ and Match of the Day and all that garbage.

Lee’s continuing vocal improvement is particularly clear during breakthrough single ‘Bluebell Fields’. It’s a bizarre rendition – vocally ambitious, his virtuoso risks overreaching so as to clash with his bandmates’ woozy indie patter. It’s an anachronism that marks MONEY’s progress since 2013, though future performances would benefit from toning it down a little, if only to keep the fans happy.

Fusing Britpop strings, lofty background chants and drums that could have come off a Brian Jonestown Massacre record, ‘I’m Not Here’ is unmistakeably the set highlight. Underpinned by Lee’s dogged acoustic strum, the band and accompanying string section build into a jubilant and stirring crescendo, soaring triumphantly until Lee finally pulls the plug. The audience are left with little more than dogged strums and prolonged cries of anguished self-abandonment. For such a melancholic ending, it’s stunningly cathartic.

Increasingly a vessel for Lee’s poetic performance, MONEY’s set ends without bandmates Charlie Cocksedge and Billy Byron. Accompanied by cello and viola, Lee strums a meandering encore of pastoral sketches, that are in all honesty a little too unrehearsed. Still, given the progress he’s made as a vocalist and songwriter over the past few years, he’s probably earned the right to wing it a little every now and then.

MONEY play End of the Road Festival on 4th September. For full details and further dates check here.

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