7th May | Crofters Rights

Meg Duffy is a top-tier performer. As a session guitarist they’ve produced some incredible solos for artists such as The War on Drugs and remained under the radar. As part of Kevin Morby’s band, they’ve played to great effect on stage and been a vital bandmate. However, their solo effort as Hand Habits is finally allowing Duffy to shine in their own right.

The Crofters Rights is a small venue, but one of Bristol’s best. Yakima get on stage at the back of the smallish events room. They look a bit like they might be your mate’s band. They then begin with an indulgent instrumental, before leading into the sensible-sounding rock of ‘Anytime You Feel’. It’s the Glaswegian band’s first foray outside Scotland. The dual vocals of guitarist, John Houston and bassist, Neil McArthur are a little muffled, but they assure us they’re speaking English.

Yakima’s tracks are, in essence, bright and upbeat. Even single, ‘Judy’s Lament’ feels like a track for a sunny afternoon. The band’s friendliness probably helps. They’re clearly having a wonderful time on stage – a group of friends playing wholesome music. It’s an approachable sound, but live, it doesn’t particularly wow. It’s only in the final track, ‘Real Time’, that something more interesting arrives in the form of a wailing synth and rising discordance as the set drew to a close.

Post-interval, Meg comes on stage and plays ‘All the While’ to start. They have a mastery over their instrument, finger-picking the part with pinpoint perfection. It’s all so casual and effortless. A wave of feedback rises over the sound, and it could be a deliberate artistic motif, but Meg assures us that it of course didn’t actually happen. Immediately they’re lying again: “This is my first time in Brighton,” which turns out to be doubly false. Whoops.

Meg’s band is stripped down – simply drums and synth to accompany their lilting voice and guitar. All eyes are thus on Duffy, and it helps the lyrical poetry hit even harder: as the word “know” leaves Meg’s lips in the line, “Now I know what lovers do,” they shake their head. Duffy is playing an unfamiliar guitar (drummer Eric’s) but you wouldn’t know.

Album title track, ‘placeholder’ is lush and a breeze for Meg to play, the melody likewise sweeping over us. They’re so comfortable with us; there’s not a hint of conversational awkwardness, even in such an intimate setting. To add to our restfulness then comes the soothing ‘pacify’, a truly lovely falling vocal line absorbing us into Duffy’s vast emotional sphere.

The skill of Hand Habits’ guitar mustn’t be understated: they so casually throw in ornamentations to the melody, and play solos so accomplished and exacting, you couldn’t fathom their new album’s been out a mere couple of months. As ‘are you serious?’ begins, we’re unsure whether the ghostly sounds we hear are tuning sounds or the start of the track proper, but the effect is nonetheless a magical one. This track is the true highlight of the gig, yet-filled with poetry, fading out as Meg whispers, “It all fades away in the bathtub with clay on my face.”

Before the final piece, the beautifully-written “the book on how to change part ii”, Duffy congratulates us on being so present during the set; but how could we not? A captivating performance by a fiercely-talented artist.

See the video for ‘can’t calm down’ by Hand Habits here: