The Echo, May 15, 2008
Photos by Timothy Norris
Once upon a time, near the dawn of this decade, James Lavelle's Mo'Wax label ruled the record store import bins. Blackalicious, DJ Shadow, and UNKLE 12" singles in elaborate packaging fetched tidy sums for their three long, similar-sounding remixes.
Though it might be hard to place them as part of that scene now, South was indeed a member of the Mo'Wax family, with a debut album, Overused, produced by Lavelle himself. In 2006, on the unfortunately titled Adventures in the Underground Journey to the Stars, South stripped away most of the electronica elements and cast their lot with the trusty guitar/drums approach.
In theory, it should have worked wonders. In reality, they're eight years and five albums in, and playing to only a couple hundred people tonight. So something didn't go exactly right somewhere.
Tonight, live, I want to like them more. I do like them. And they've managed to bring out dozens of cute girls from two camps: Those who remember their song featured in The O.C. and the die-hards who remember them featured regularly in NME and Melody Maker. Last week at the Elbow show, Timothy Norris wondered, "Why aren't they bigger than they are?" The same could be asked about South, with whom Elbow once toured the U.S. when both had bigger buzz. I'd change it up to read, "Why aren't South at least as big as Elbow?"
Well, actually a couple of reasons jump right out at me. That name doesn't cut it over here. South as a band name is marginally better than Elbow, but still easily misplaced, and it'll never be the first thing that comes up on a Google search. The second is that South's music is so sincere. They write love songs: hopeful, trust-inspiring, pleading. There are lyrics and melodies here that Coldplay wouldn't be ashamed of. As Paul McCartney would say, "What's wrong with that... Love isn't silly at all."
Sensitive lyrics delivered from Joel Cadbury's cute, young mug should melt many a girl's heart - or if played at the right time - get her to forgiver her guy's sins.
But there's a lack of edge, which makes it seem a little too normal. Cadbury's on stage in a light blue t-shirt, not speaking to the crowd a lot. And while he's by no means uncharismatic, he's not holding us in the palm of his hand either.
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Guitarist Jamie McDonald's looks like a less skeletal Richard Ashcroft. He stomped along in place throughout the songs, delivering tasteful solos and a couple of surprisingly strong lead vocals. One of those, "Wasted," opens their just released album, You Are Here. Another goodie, "Better Things" appeared on an earlier record but shows up again on the new album.
It's hard to know where South goes from here. A couple more well-placed songs in TV shows could give them a huge kick-start and put them on playlists of 20 year-olds everywhere. If it doesn't happen, maybe they'll just be content to keep playing to the faithful for as long as they can. There are worse things in life after all than being in a band with half a dozen full-length records and the ability to tour regularly.