More than two years since his debut single became a top 10 hit in the U.K. after its appearance in a Volkswagen commercial, Aqualung (nee Matt Hales) finally journeys Stateside. Had he ventured across the Atlantic earlier, his piano-driven ballads would have had an air of timeliness. Still, SRO showcase proved to be an ideal setting for Hales’ intimate, breathy vocals.
His voice is surprisingly powerful, at times soaring, easily holding his own against his Yank counterparts. Aqualung changes its arrangement each tour, performing as anything from a duo to a nine-piece. The songs take the form of stately ballads, all introspective melancholia on the surface that seem at first like variations on the theme of unrequited yearning.
Between songs, Hales exhibits typical self-deprecating English wit, providing light relief. Sitting at a low piano, he quips, “It’s the kind of the thing played by Tom Waits or Rolf of the Muppets.” He uses this to justify positioning himself mostly out of the aud’s view, facing the side curtain. But taking himself out of the spotlight allows Hales to relax and perform unselfconsciously.
Brother Ben Hales provides able backing on a Rickenbacker, showing restraint until the thickly layered f/x to build the set to a lush climax.
Columbia will likely need to exercise patience, allowing word of mouth to build before capturing discerning record buyers. Those who do pay attention will be nicely rewarded.
Aqualung performs today at Joe’s Pub in Gotham.