The Green Door Store always smells of incense. The quirky venue, all raw brick and uneven flooring, somehow goes hand-in-hand with the bands billed, something cosy and familiar about being in the intimate setting. For a sold out evening mid-week, it’s not too busy when Psychic Markers get going. Apparently they have played a few dates on this tour already and are tired so the quietly judging atmosphere of the audience might be a welcome break or it might be intimidating. It’s hard to tell what they make of it really. Starting with as much energy as they can muster, they look and sound like a seasoned indie-rock band. Singer Stephen Dove has killer cheekbones and cuts a similar figure to the Thin White Duke or even Jarvis Cocker due to his Northern accent, while lead guitarist, Leon, looks appropriately attired with striped top and thick rimmed glasses. Also in the Bella Union stable, their strongest tracks are the newest in the set, such as the experimental ‘Clouds’, though older ones like ‘200 Thousand Years Ago’ and the vastly repetitive ‘Hardly Strangers’ are more than danceable, the chanting vocals of the latter lending a 70s Iggy Pop feel to the occasion. Psychic Markers may be a bit lacklustre during this particular performance – perhaps due to the unexplained absence of their female member – but there remains something intriguing about their musical melting pot that is definitely worthy of attention when they’ve caught up on their beauty sleep.
Suddenly the room is heaving when BC Camplight, aka Brian Christinzio, appears and makes his way to the piano, clutching a wine bottle, his face wrapped in massive sunglasses. Opening with the title track of his recent album, Deportation Blues heralds BC as the master of f*cked up pop melodies. When he sings: “Won’t you welcome strangers into your world?” in a voice dripping in sarcasm, the struggle when he was actually deported from England a few years back otherwise sounds a million miles away; strong Beach Boys harmonies and an almost operatic bridge instead creating a modern masterpiece out of his tragedy. Crammed onto the tiny stage with five other people, BC’s artillery includes a wide range of percussion from Francesca Pidgeon and some instantly passionate guitar work by Luke Barton, proving that these folk are not just a backing band either.
The crowd erupts, prompting BC to declare how much he loves Brighton, even if he can usually expect something vaguely insulting to happen when he visits. Here he takes the opportunity to tell us that not only was he attacked by a seagull in the city but someone in a well-known local record shop ignored the deep conversation they were having to inform him that his hometown of Philadelphia is best known for AIDS. He laughs about it because it is clearly a black humour that he relies on to conquer the absurdities of life that fuel his creativity. The banter is surprising, becoming more congenial as he continues to glug the accompanying bottle of white, even playing the piano with it at one point. “I’ve never seen that before” murmurs a bloke in the audience. “You have now, my friend”, BC says proudly.
As a performer, Christinzio is definitely an original amongst his contemporaries but also a natural at emanating classic artists that thrived some decades before, artists who were often equally attacked by their own demons resulting in some of the very best rock and roll. Favouring a nature and nurture approach to his craft, the furious way BC plays piano on occasion – twinned with some funky basslines and insistently edgy synths – could make him the bastard offspring of Elton John and David Bowie after a three-way with Jeff Lynne. Less saccharine of late, it is the darker parts of Christinzio’s new material that now refutes the Ben Folds ditties of his earlier years, possibly explaining why there is only one opportunity to sing-along to these songs (‘Lord, I’ve Been On Fire’, which still remains an earworm for days afterwards). Arguably the most accomplished he has been in his long career to date, though the themes of loneliness and desolation will obviously be dominant, tonight there are also glimpses into the soul of a man merely finding solace in simplicity that are really quite moving. ‘When I Think of My Dog’ is one standout example, a stripped down ballad to his Jack Russel/Pug that should be ridiculous but is testament to a pure and honest songwriting talent. Only BC could purposefully follow such a beautiful moment with ‘Fire in England’, his now-notorious love letter to our dear Theresa May who signed his deportation order as then Home Secretary. “She told me to get the f*ck out”, he laughs, before launching into a tune that spread eagles both sides of the pond, with nods to the very American slacker rock of The Pixies and the quintessentially British madness of The Cardiacs, wrapped up in a Billy Joel melody.
With an inimitable charisma, the whole package makes for a compelling performance. The show feels too short and when the pulsating electronic drama of ‘I’m Desperate’ draws to a close, there is no encore because they don’t have a dressing room to go to. “I’m coming to party with you lot”, he says as he walks out into the crowd. Refreshingly human and fricking awesome, BC Camplight is all that is right in the world.