Gig review: Paper Aeroplanes @ The Portland Arms, Cambridge

Writing about a band called ‘Paper Aeroplanes’ is a gig reviewers dream. ‘The music wafted gracefully over the audience heads’, ‘From then on the gig took flight…’,’The evening plummeted to a fiery demise as all aboard screamed in horror’…you get the picture. I could just cram the hell out of this piece with flying related puns instead of doing an actual review, but then that wouldn’t be fair. It was one of the finest gigs I’ve seen in Cambridge this year and this time, winging it just won’t do.

As introductions go, rarely have I seen one more accurate than the “very lovely and very local” description given to our support act, Cambridge based ‘Fred’s House‘. The beaming smiles and flower entwined microphone on show proved to be a fair visual reflection of their music; breezy folk-pop songs with feel good catchy melodies – set opener “I’m Not Saying” being a perfect example. Highlights included the touchingly endearing “Last Thing I Wanted” and “High Life”, a cracking cover of “Norwegian Wood” and then the rhythmic roller coaster of ‘Beautiful You”, with Latin guitars and crashing cymbals aplenty. There’s a whole host of influences and styles mixed in here, and as lead singer Vikki Gavin drives the band from song to song it’s easy to see why the group are beginning to make a real name for themselves. Having appeared on Tom Robinson’s BBC6 show recently and with summer appearances at the likes of Secret Garden Party and Bestival lined up, the stage is set for Fred’s House to build on some firm foundations.

Paper Aeroplanes make beautiful music, it’s as simple as that. Pick any song from their ever growing back catalogue and within seconds you’ll feel a strange fuzzy feeling slowly working it’s way through your bones. As cringeworthy as that sounds, it’s true. By the time the opening bars of “Days We Made” had finished, the audience had surrendered to the fuzziness and there was no turning back.
Sarah Howell’s voice is a strangely enchanting one. As her achingly sweet vocals wrap a comforting arm around the crowd, Richard Llewellyn’s delicate guitar playing and the addition of an eccentrically brilliant double bassist combine to great effect. The double bass in particular was prominent in the ever popular ‘Same Mistakes’, using mournfully long notes to draw out the song’s sadness.
Cambridge was the final date on a 30 date tour for the duo, but despite extensive gigging and rehearsing there’s little to be done in the event of technical glitches. Some teeth-itching static feedback in the middle of ‘Tuesday’ was dealt with by electrical leads being flung aside and an acoustic approach being taken, it worked perfectly and prompted the biggest applause of the night. ‘Winter Never Comes’ and ‘Safe Hands’ followed on with more of the evocative lyrics they do so well, before the tremendously poppy ‘My First Love’ closed things off with a nostalgic trip down memory lane. The standardly awkward Portland encore followed, there’s no hiding place here if there’s no call for more, but it was never in doubt and to the stage they returned. Or so we thought. Howell and Llewellyn waded straight into the audience and treated us to a breathtaking unplugged rendition of ‘Newport Beach’, coaxing the crowd into a sing along while simultaneously taking us to the misty Welsh coastline. As a more than appreciative audience roared their approval; the mist cleared and the fuzziness lifted and it was hard to believe the hour long set had gone by already. I guess time flies when you’re having fun.

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