Years of lounging in more “gemutlich” bars have inured me to the stiff backed pleasures of Zapata’s steel furniture and rather churchy acoustics. I remain indifferent to the Jabberwocky scrap metal gargoyle which belches out an occasional plume of fire above the bar, unrepentant at the threat of damnation promised by its overpriced Mojhitos. Likewise the presence of a banjo on the overlit stage seemed an ill omen on a cold Sunday night, presaging as it did the revivalist meeting convened by Grand Island.
Sporting the regulation indy uniform of skinny jeans and black shirts accesorised with tambourines ala Jim Morrisson, Grand Island consist of Norwegian brothers Espen and Paul Gustavsen (guitar, banjo and shared vocal duties), Jon Helgaker (keyboards and vocals), Nils Brodersen (drums) and Inge Brodersen (bass). In contrast to his hirsuite comrades, Inge (and yes, I thought that was a girl’s name as well) sports a shaved head and a pointy beard, though any resemblance to Anton LeVay is entirely fictional.
The brothers Gustavsen make no bones about their infatuation with American music promising, in the words of their Myspace page, a “dirty hybrid” of “hardsoul-bluegrass-disco, hardcore and rocknroll; southern indie. Sulphur vocals, heavy organs and banjo fingers”, a potentially indigestable swamp of a gumbo that might well precipitate a rocky mountain breakdown or a deliciously unwholesome southern fried treat depending on your gastromusical predilections and cardiovascular condition.
They opened with Fountain, a tambourine shaking stomper which bore a passing resemblance to Gogol Bordello with its surprise trumpet and harmonizing. The set proceeded in a similar veign, synchronized clapping and feelgood la-la-la choruses, with rollicking Hammond riffs. Between songs Espen thanked the audience with genuine warmth for turning out on a Sunday and it was hard not to warm to his evident enthusiasm and charisma.
The keep it in the family policy seemed well suited to their southern Baptist sonic ambitions. Snake hipped rather than snake handling, their sound was not one that threatened to scare the horses. Heavily endebted to Jack White’s falsetto, the Kings of Leon’s appropriation of the Allman Brothers back catalogue and The Strokes theft of everything not nailed down in Television’s garage, Grand Island seem just too well brought up, too damn nice, to snarl or sneer. The result was, for all the genuine energy and conviction of its delivery, perhaps a little lacking in fire and brimstone.
Say no to sin, Grand Island’s debut album, is out now on Racing Junior. To the best of my knowledge Paul Gustavsen is not intending to change his name to Banjo Fingers and the devil still retains copyright to all the best tunes.