Intimate yet theatrical, epic yet humble, carnal yet romantic, Oh Mercy’s show at the Oxford Art Factory was a thrilling mess of contradictions, over an hour of beautiful music played beautifully. It’s hard to imagine what more any reasonable audience member would have wanted from Alexander Gow and his five peerless bandmates; the group delivered on every single level, churning out tunes with a precision and skill that quite quickly became genuinely astonishing.
Though Gow paid the requisite attention to When We Talk About Love, his brilliant new album, he made sure to include numbers from across his body of work. Stands outs were almost too many to mention – indeed, not a single track of the set felt like a stumble or a setback, and every note played rang emotionally true in such a profound way that the audience seemed utterly spellbound – but Gow’s willingness to adapt and transform his oeuvre saw a song like Stay Please Stay swell and expand to deliriously affecting levels.
Though the indomitable Phoebe Neilson stunned on bass, adding power and heft to Iron Cross, and Joe Cope’s peerless work took My Man to another level, the entire band were unbelievably tight, performing a version of Leonard Cohen’s One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong so good that it repeatedly threatened to equal (and perhaps even surpass) the original in a myriad of intoxicating ways. It was Cohen by way of the Velvet Underground, or, perhaps more accurately, Cohen by way of Oh Mercy, a group so astonishingly unique that they require no comparison.
Railing against ‘Leonardo Dipacricorn’, and introducing Iron Cross as a song about being attracted to nuns, Gow was as honest, funny and open as one might expect from a man who has crafted an album as stunningly sincere as When We Talk About Love or one as bitingly wry as Priveleged Woes. At one point, Gow’s bandmates left the stage, leaving him to strum and stun through a version of Lady Eucalyptus charged with such power that the room began to buzz with a wholly unique energy.
An impeccable version of Deep Heat concluded the proceedings, leading the audience out into the night on a thrilling high. It was the perfect way to end a perfect gig; a show good enough to re-instate even the most bitter cynic’s faith in live music. A success on every conceivable level, it was the kind of show that embeds itself in one’s memory, a stunning example of music’s transformative power.