Master & Dog

The folk-rock act channel early Snow Patrol in an inspired set at Voodoo, writes Andrew Lemon

'This song is about a holiday I went on in my mind once.' As 18-year-old singer-songwriter Patrick Gardiner nonchalantly introduces new track 'Carcassonne', tonight's audience in Voodoo aren't quite sure how to take him.

Having kicked off the first of a series of gig nights under the Hidden Machine banner with 'He's Not Right For You', Gardiner's acoustic tales of romances won and lost are tenderly told, but seem somewhat at odds with his prickly on-stage banter.

Making reference to punters who remark 'Flip, he's so wee' – Gardiner's response is 'Yeah. Yeah, I am' – and an aloof comment about the audience possibly buying one of his CDs, it's hard to reconcile this persona with the same performer who tonight plays a wonderfully judged and technically mind-boggling cover of Chaka Khan's 'Ain't Nobody'.

Gardiner manages to execute the track's multiple layers with only an acoustic guitar in hand. Such a sparse live setup leaves little room to hide, and upon scrutiny some of Gardiner's lyrics are a little predictable, but there's a lot to appreciate in tonight's set from the young pretender.

That same sort of stripped-down live performance carries on into the night when The Jepettos take to the stage. For tonight a three piece, the folk-pop act usually have an established rhythm section to back them up, but they work this to their advantage in tracks like 'You're Not Listening (Hear Me Out)', where the on stage chemistry between off stage couple Mike and Ruth Aicken turns every track into a lovestruck serenade.

Particularly prominent throughout the performance are Ruth's breathless Ellie Goulding vocals, which lend themselves perfectly to tracks like 'Even Though' and 'Waters'. This set is endearing, but despite the band's multi-instrumentalism it starts to border on the sickly-sweet. With a little variety and edge to go along with these lovelorn ditties, there is no reason that The Jepettos can't carve out a niche all of their own.

When folk-rock act Master & Dog begin their set with the dreary 'Weathered', it seems like tonight's gig is bound to play out at one pace throughout. Not necessarily a bad thing – it is a beautiful song, after all – but it's the first time that the audience have seen a full band on stage, and it seems to promise so much more.

It's not until the band start to feel their way into the loud/quiet of 'Small Time' that Master & Dog start to show their true colours. Their blues-y folk influences are flecked throughout the rest of the set on numbers like 'Devil Knows How' and more impressively on the slow burning 'Frost', but the quartet are at their strongest when letting loose and turning up the volume a little bit.

Channelling the scuzz of a Songs For Polarbears-era Snow Patrol on the alt rock 'Heavyweight', it's suddenly apparent how few acts revisiting the genre there are in Belfast today. What Master & Dog are doing here isn't anything new, but they do it well.

Understandably, their self-titled second album features heavily in tonight's set, but those louder moments from throughout their back catalogue help to lift the performance. Recent single 'Canada' fits right in alongside these alt rock vignettes.

Using it to see their set out tonight, it's the highlight of the evening, particularly when the band call up local songwriter Rory Nellis from the audience to sing along. 'If you take my hand, I'll show you what I'm made of,' echoes the refrain. Master & Dog have certainly reminded a Belfast audience why they're worth paying attention to.

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