It’s been a gruelling yet triumphant 14 months for London quartet The Big Moon. Releasing their third long player (and best record to date) – ‘Here is Everything’ to critical acclaim and essentially gigging it non-stop since. “We are…broken” admits bassist Celia Archer near the start of the show though it is said with a smile and any sense of tour fatigue is quickly dispelled with a show that has a celebratory air to proceedings. Tonight is a pretty special event – providing a warm up of sorts to a headline slot at London’s Union Chapel venue the next night the band have reworked the majority of the set and are joined on stage by a string quartet. Think of it as a Christmas gift to their fans. As a result, songs already infused with delicious harmonies and melodies gain extra depth through some beautiful string arrangements. As the band reconvenes in 2024 to work on the next record over the coming months I wonder how much these shows will impact on the direction of the next record.
Right from the off the added layer of strings elevate the songs. Set opener ‘Wide Eyes’ sweeping verses in particular sound so much more impactful whilst they provide an instant lift in ‘Ladye Bay’s’ already lush chorus as the vocal harmonies kick in. In addition to providing a powerful sense of grandeur to the tracks they are also used in a more atmospheric and nuanced way with the arrangement in ‘Sucker Punch’ making the song sound like some kind of Scandi-noir soundtrack.
As it’s December we of course get some added sleigh bells in places though it’s not too cheesy at all with ‘Satellites’ getting the festive treatment. It really is beginning to feel like Christmas by the midway point. If you’ve ever heard their version of ‘Carol of the Bells’ on record then you know it’s ethereal quality. Tonight the strings lift it to an otherworldly plain. Tonight’s version is possibly the highlight of the night and perfect for both the setting – Papillon is situated in a former church – and occasion.
It’s not all string laden tunes though and two thirds through, the string section gets a well deserved break which gives the band a chance to once again show off their impressive vocal range with a couple of acoustic versions of older tracks ‘Formidable’ and ‘Cupid’. What is now a standard in the band’s live set – an acapella version of the former merges into the latter with the band giving us a slightly different rendition but still holding onto its country rock twang of a chorus. With the strings back on stage we get a delightful ‘Waves’, its lyrical themes of a lost love could have potentially strayed into the maudlin but the mass crowd singing along to its repeated vocal refrain, a sea of mobile phone torches in the air and smiles all around act like a giant heartwarming embrace for band and crowd alike.
As we reach the final part of the set the tunes kick up a bit – “here come the hits” singer Juliette Jackson drolly declares – and we get a triumphant double bill of ‘Trouble’ and ‘2 Lines’. As if it couldn’t get any more magical, ‘snow’ falls from the ceiling (ok, ok white ticker tape) during the set closer – a thumping ‘Your Light’ – and Christmas is well and truly here.