Phantom Limb @ Monto Water Rats
aaamusic | On 03, Feb 2012
London, 31st January
Phantom Limb is a great name for a band. The medical sensation it refers to –where a person feels that a missing body part is both still there and functioning – conjures up all sorts of metaphorical possibilities, although I’m not sure it’s quite the appropriate choice for a band that deals in a breezy mixture of soul and country music. It’s a bit like if Fleetwood Mac had been called Alien Hand Syndrome…
Nethertheless, the band have thrived and are shortly to be releasing their second album, The Pines, from which they are performing a few tracks at the Monto Water Rats tonight. Country music tends to divide people, and Phantom Limb are no exception to this. However, the soul element to their sound gives them a wider appeal than a lot of country artists, and they are at their best when this style is most prominent. Take lead singer Yolanda Quartey: she provides brilliant, highly wrought vocals throughout this performance, and seems to owe a greater debt to classic soul legends – such as Aretha Franklin and Etta James – than she does to many country artists. There are a few raised eyebrows amongst the crowd at some of the ‘screechier’ moments, but personally, I quite enjoy them.
Then there’s the band’s use of more inventive harmonies than your average country performers. Like with so much folk music, traditional country acts likes to keep things simple chord-wise. This emotional straightforwardness is what some people really love about the music, and it is also what others find rather dull. However, Phantom Limb strike up quite a good balance between the pleasant, uncomplicated nature of the country style, with the more interesting and vibrant harmonies commonly associated with soul.
The opening track tonight, Missy, demonstrates this very effectively. Soulful vocals and harmonies are combined with a typically country-esque double bass line, twanging guitar inflexions and simple piano accompaniment. This mixture of electric and acoustic perfectly characterises the band’s hybrid style. Next up is current single and album title track, The Pines, which doesn’t pull off the balance quite as well. It has a great dreamy opening, characterised by wistful harmonies and sliding backing vocals, but this gives way into a more run-of-the-mill country chorus.
Most laid-back track of the night is the ultra-breezy Gravy Train. This strolls along with the ease of a care-free hobo on herbal medication, thanks to some bluesy vocals and a light-hearted sensibility. This is in contrast with the final track of the show, Harder Than Stone, which displays the band’s song-writing at its most mature. A great ballad, it boasts evocative harmonies, a potent melodic line, and strong backing from the rest of the group; each contrasting section grows out from the last, developing along a rich but coherent dramatic vein, and finally exploding into a very enjoyable ad hoc conclusion.
This is a fitting end to the night, showcasing a polished country band that is at its most interesting when delving into more soul and blues influenced territory. Their new album, The Pines, is released on the 13th of February.
 In fact, there was a previous band called Phantom Limb, more along the lines of what you would expect from such a name. They released an album entitled Pig Destroyer, containing such charmingly titled singles as Gravedancer and Piss Angel. There is also currently a band called Alien Hand Syndrome.