Venue: Union Chapel, Islington Support Bands: Kammer Klang String Quartet Date: 08/05/09 What has organized religion ever done for us? Seeing the interior of the Union Chapel last night made me accept that the Church was making up at least a little bit for all those years of persecution and warmongering. The surrounding brick pillars, with lit candles lining the upper galleries and the gigantic circular stain glass window behind the stage created a breath taking atmosphere. This atmosphere notably grew and developed once the evening became darker, and the red and mauve lights that splashed on the pillars and pulpit became more intense, while the Kammer Klang String Quartet played some of Gavin Bryars' enchanting pieces. It was later that a man in a thigh-length, robe-like t-shirt and scarf sped to the stage and barely gave time for applause before kicking into the fast paced, aggressive piano piece, 'Skip Town'. As he did this his face and hands darted around different parts of the piano with the suddenness of a bird spotting and pecking at worms in the ground. The audience then gave a proper applause and Nico Muhly turned to them, and let his character pour out with a greeting and a polite explanation of how he wrote 'Skip Town' to say "fuck you" to a friend who was leaving their home town of New York. As the show went on he was joined by an array of musicians with individual talents that were unique to this performance and this venue; Thomas Gould, violinist; Helgi Hrafn Jonsson, trombone player and singer (of the supernatural Icelandic variety); Sam Amidon, folk singer, guitarist and banjo player; Valgeir Sigurosson, percussionist and electronics player; Thomas Bartlett aka Doveman, singer and pianist. They came on one by one and expressed their great abilities, particularly when Helgi sang excerpts from the 'Wonders' composition, with his banshee howl that seemed to have a range that stretched to infinity, along with Sam Amidon's performance of the powerful 'Saro'. As I listened to these adventurous performances I looked around at the Chapel and lost all contempt and concern for the world. I'd never experienced such an extraordinary combination of artist and venue; it was like the place was built for Nico and his companions. Further more I took in the fact that these musicians were performing for Nico, playing songs that he had written specially for them, which highlighted there and then the sensational abilities of the man, to identify a remarkable voice or instrumentalist and create something for them that reinforces their talent. Like all enjoyable experiences this one was nearly over in what felt like ten minutes. A wave of groans flooded the pews as Sam said, "This is our last one by the way", which was abruptly followed by Nico making claw-like gestures and growling, "But it's loooong... Really looooong!". This transformed all those groans into laughter. The last piece they performed came with a delay, as they had to "sort out the equipment and the wine", (wine in a venue where no alcohol is allowed? There's room for rock and roll in the folk and classical world after all!) There was also a charming introduction from Nico about his parents singing him a disturbing, gruesome folk tale as child, with big grins on their faces. With that in mind, they played an extensive revival of this old folk song about a girl who pushes her sister into a stream, who then drowns and is mutilated by a fiddle maker, and yet I didn't feel bad for enjoying it. The group took a bow and left the stage, only to have Nico come back for an encore. Yet again this song, which was a follow on from 'Skip Town' had an ironically happy explanation from the composer, where his two friends said to him, "We're getting married and leaving town, will you come to our wedding?" to which he replied, "Absolutely not, but I will write you a sad procession..." There was another pause before he once again turned away from the piano with a cheeky grin on his face and said, "...Incidentally, they're living in Belgium and I hear things aren't going so well for them." The only thing that could change that humorous tone and reveal Nico's true feelings on the situation was the last composition he played, "Hudson Cycle". With his left and right hands he played two conflicting rhythms that showed this failure to grasp the concept of unity, at the pace of the river that he saw as home. It was with that last moving piece that he said his goodbye and left the stage.