The Washington Post

Veronica Falls at the Black Cat: Fine taste and finely crafted tunes

Roxanne Clifford of London band Veronica Falls performs at the Black Cat backstage on Wednesday night. (Josh Sisk/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

In 2011, Veronica Falls released an EP of cover songs that was highlighted by a wistfully sparkling version of “Joed Out,” an arrow-to-the-heart gem written by New Zealand icons the Verlaines. The song takes regret, longing and passion and hard-wires it to a guitar riff that grabs the heart and throat in one swift motion.

On the Black Cat’s backstage Wednesday night, Veronica Falls decisively proved that it didn’t cover the song for record-collector cred: The group takes longing, regret and guitar riffs very seriously. The charming, no-frills performance zoomed by in a rush of interlocking male-female harmonies and ringing guitars that was both contemporary and a vintage postcard to their countless (and sublime) influences.

The interlocking voices belonged to guitarists Roxanne Clifford and James Hoare (with occasional assistance from drummer Patrick Doyle), and their instruments cast a bracing backdrop throughout. The London-based quartet (bassist Marion Herbain being the fourth) was opening a 17-show U.S. tour and played with a no-nonsense confidence befitting a band that seemed to be riding a creative peak.

The set was split evenly between the group’s recently released second album, “Waiting for Something to Happen,” and its self-titled debut. And though the new songs don’t leap radically forward, they refine the band’s strengths in a way that makes the new album a better overall effort.

Wednesday’s performance supported that assertion. Songs such as “Broken Toy,” “If You Still Want Me” and “Tell Me” managed to convey both the giddiness of newfound passion and the heartsick pain of breakup. That duality is what has won the band a dedicated following — the backstage was nearly full to capacity, despite the icky weather — and charmed many critics.

Yet Hoare and Clifford hardly betrayed an awareness that anyone was paying attention. They dug into their songs as if they were practicing in the basement, leaning into the bittersweet chorus of “Bad Feeling” and “Right Side of My Brain” as if the only person who might hear them was the lover they are obsessed with (or had just been jilted by).

That the music echoed down history’s guitar-pop hallway — peeking in on influential bands such as Orange Juice, the Bats and the Wedding Present — was a bonus. But the set’s real triumph was in how much more robust the songs sounded in person vs. their recorded versions. While both Veronica Falls albums make pleasant listening, and the details are well-crafted, what came across Wednesday was robust and bristling, underpinned with an urgency that is hard to find on the albums. For a band that is obviously record-collection obsessed, that was a major achievement.

Foster is a freelance writer.

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