A Winged Victory for the Sullen – South Street, Reading

As if the album itself wasn’t already enough of an extraordinary, moving suite of music; seeing and hearing A Winged Victory for the Sullen play (most) of it live raised it yet further into an almost spiritual experience. What is it that can turn some music into something transcendent? To what extent do the artists themselves know that they are creating something remarkable?

Last weeks all too brief show was one of those rare gigs where everything else disappears for the duration and you find yourself totally and completely absorbed by what is taking place in front of you. I have bleated enough recently about my self absorbed emotional state, but here is music that simultaneously is exultant, deeply private and heart rending, it makes your chest swell with emotion and your eyes grow misty as a result.

Messrs O’Halloran and Wiltzie occupied the left and right  hand portions of the stage. Wiltzie was effectively invisible for much of the time, back turned to the audience, shielded by the wings of the stage, manipulating his guitar, knobs and keyboard to produce the most un-guitar like sounds possible – strings, bells, trumpets and great washes of sound all seemed to emanate from stage right. O’Halloran was more evident and more audience friendly behind his keyboard and occasional forays to the mic to say a few words.

So it was the remarkable three girl string section that occupied the majority of the stage and hence much of our view, during the evening, their sounds either swelling the sound-stage to an almost orchestra-like scale or playing with delicacy and control to layer minute sounds and musical suggestions around the output of the two main collaborators.

In so many ways I think the album deserves to be played straight through, no breaks for applause, nothing the disturb the extraordinary atmosphere created by this music. Although everything here was quite sublime it is Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears that I find the most affecting.

Support was from Sleeping Dog, who I saw once before when they supported Low in Bristol. I enjoyed them then but for this show they seemed to have moved up a notch; greater variety and nuance, the voice of Chantal Acda still that crystal clear instrument of hers, and this time I recognised Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie for who he was… how foolish did I feel not making the link before?

An evening of rare and extraordinary beauty, an evening that felt like a privilege and an evening that only comes around once in a very long while.

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