The Black Heart Procession broke a three-year silence to mount a modest European tour celebrating 20 years since recording their debut album, the pre-search engine era 1. If you didn’t know this going into their set at Jazzhouse, then you didn’t find out until after they had made it through the album and were into the encore. They’re not a band to make a fuss or really chat all that much between songs.
Opener Sam Coomes, touring his debut solo album, brought a glitchier version of his work with Quasi. Perched on an amp in lieu of a piano bench, he’s got an analogue drum machine, loads of twiddly knobs to twist between songs, a stuffed vulture mounted on his mic stand, a rotating mannequin head with LED eyes, and more pedals underfoot than seems logistically reasonable — including an air synth, which effectively acts as a theremin he can operate with his foot. It’s more visually stimulating than you’d expect a guy at a keyboard to be.
It’s not a competition for obscure objects to trot out during the show, but the Black Heart Procession begin their set with frontman Pall Jenkins playing a saw. And while it’s a neat party trick, it’s also a detail that demonstrates why 1 has aged so well in 20 years. The current line-up of the band, augmented by accordion and violin as well as drums and synths, is mostly built around organic arrangements not subject to technology’s fads or evolution. It also emphasizes the band’s range of dynamics in a way that is lost on their albums: Everything on the recording always sounds very mellow and delicate, and it’s surprising just how loud a song like “Release My Heart” can be.
The encore is less orchestrated: “A Cry for Love” (because it’s curiously popular on YouTube), “The War is Over,” and the treat of an unnamed new song. The new song is introduced with a brief speech from Pall, who explains that the song is about borders and refugees and how the rhetoric in the US is uncomfortable for two guys who grew up near the Mexican border. And while the Black Heart Procession doesn’t seem like the sort of band to get political, the new song is undoubtedly one of theirs. If this marks a new direction, it won’t take fans far off course.