Walking past the venue before the show one of the support acts says to get in early to catch them, we do, and they are awful. With the singer interrupting his own songs to order the soundtech to boost his already obnoxiously loud vocals even higher in the mix, and a guitarist who seems to subscribe to the wise mantra of “the faster I strum, the better I am” the experience is frankly cringe inducing. Their set culminates with the singer declaring that they won’t be leaving the stage until the very unenthused audience sings back a generic “woaah” he is passing off as a chorus line.
Taking to the stage just after 10pm, Champs gently distance themselves from the support, which is presumably arranged by the venue rather than part of Balthazar’s tour, saying that they’re “quite different to the two bands that played before us”. They are a smaller group tonight, for reasons left unexplained but with the assurance that this is only temporary, and as a result the set is somewhat stripped back and less fleshed out than their recorded material. The lead singer carries a twelve-string acoustic and stands behind a synth – alternating between the two, to his right is a bassist, and on his left a second guitarist who provides harmonising vocals and the occasional lead.
Their sound is drenched in chorusing and reverb, and, impressively they accomplish this on both analogue and digital levels. Using a twelve-string means that the singer’s guitar already doubles itself up and rings out with a shimmering effect, and the interplay between his and his brother’s vocal lines means that a similar doubling effect comes through there too. On top of this the stage is littered with effects pedals, ably put to use. The result is a profound, overwhelming depth to their performance. Every note cascades into the next, both fleeting and bright, resonant and lasting.
Declaring that they are from the Isle of Wight brings several unexpected “whoop”s from the audience, myself included, it is a spot on the map overlooked by most for its sheer irrelevance to the rest of the world. Being able to make it from strumming in such a backwater to filling a room up in Glasgow is not something to be overlooked; Champs manage to create a warmth, a feeling of intimacy and familiarity despite their relative obscurity, without being able to sing along to a single word their set remains captivating throughout.
Their new album, Vamala (February, 2015), is a fantastic accomplishment and they play through a good deal of it tonight. The highlight of the night has to be ‘Forever Be Upstanding At Your Door’. The track shows something their support acts could have learnt a lot from; there’s nothing wrong with keeping things simple. With uncomplicated, steadily fingerpicked chords topped with beautifully harmonised vocals, from two brothers whose talent matches their ambition, ‘Forever Be Upstanding At Your Door’ is nothing short of moving as it washes over us in the audience. As great as their album is, see them live instead. The crappy speakers on our laptops can’t replicate the sort of atmosphere Champs generate on stage; catch them whilst they’re as small as the venues they play, and then boast about seeing them a few years down the line from now.
Photograph: The Guardian