Ed Harcourt: London E1 The Spitz

Ed Harcourt was born on the wrong side of the Atlantic, half a century behind schedule...

Lets just get the comparisons out of the way first. ‘I’ve Become Misguided’ is Tom Waits! ‘Hanging With The Wrong Crowd’ exhumes Jeff Buckley! ‘Shanghai’ wants to be Ben Folds Five and Billy Joel (don’t be frightened, now)!

And that, in summary, is Ed Harcourt – tonight transferring from New Orleans jazz bars to Latino dance halls (‘He’s Building A Swamp’) without so much as a nod in the general direction of his guitar-wielding contemporaries. At 23, the Sussex lad should really be strapping on the acoustic and warbling about astronomy – but a double bass and trumpeter onstage, coupled with Ed sitting behind keyboards swigging red wine from the bottle – puts paid to that. Not an indie chancer in sight.

Take ‘I’ve Become Misguided’, double bass mixed with snare drums and muted trumpet, ponderous vocals interrupted occasionally by a low-fi rumble from the barefoot guitarist. It’s reminiscent of a handful of southern bums dozily slurring to each other as they discuss life’s misfortune over a paper-bagged bottle of JD. With a xylophone in the corner and banjo at the ready, the realisation dawns – and not soon enough – that Ed Harcourt was born on the wrong side of the Atlantic, half a century behind schedule.

But then he surprises us with ‘Wind Thru Trees’, terribly British in it’s emotive style and dedicated to the festive season. “Happy New Year, everyone” he smiles, as only presenters of TV Christmas Specials can. What follows is a mournful ballad of warped harpsichord and whispers, sounding like breaking ice on a freshly frozen lake. 2001, we’re waiting. If Ed Harcourt is in charge of the soundtrack, it’s going to be a beautiful, contradictory, mellow year. Sing us another song, Piano Man.

Alicia Brodersen