It must be a big thing, while still in your teens, to uproot yourself from everything you know and travel halfway around the world to play the songs you wrote in your bedroom for a basement full of strangers. Given the fact he’s gathered more buzz than a stock-take at Al’s Toy Barn (get that reference, if you will), it was only a matter of time before Vancouver Sleep Clinic (aka Tim Bettison) made that step, and he’s done it pretty confidently.
Taking to the stage at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, this is his first ever time playing in London, and it’s fair to say that the occasion is somewhat overwhelming for him. As explained during one of the brief pauses in the set, one of the band came off the worse for an encounter with a Nandos chicken bone, meaning mixing duties were doubled up by the keys player. While of course their ad-hoc mix man did an admirable job under the circumstances, the occasional flubs perhaps threw Bettison slightly, his on-stage patter not yet confident enough to brush these things off smoothly.
Despite these minor hesitancies, however, the music largely spoke for itself. Bettison is a passionate yet technically controlled performer, whose ability to make his falsetto vocals feel as though they have been screamed with every ounce of his being truly raises the hairs on the back of your neck. On his recent Winter EP he produced a range of songs whose lyrical beauty and understated melancholy belied his youth, and they translate into a mesmerizing live performance.
‘Stakes’, ‘Vapour’ and of course ‘Collapse’ were real highlights, as were new songs ‘Drake’ and ‘What Matters Most’, which was apparently written when Bettison recently spent two weeks by himself in an LA hotel room. The mix was occasionally a little too bass-heavy, slightly detracting from the impact of the vocals, but they were pretty darned impressive all the same. Letting rip on the melodies, and the shimmering guitars that accompany them, Bettison opens up incredibly during the performance. It’s the kind of thing that, when these venues get (as they surely will) much, much bigger, will verge on the euphoric.
While tonight had its difficulties, it’s nonetheless the kind of performance that everyone here will look back on with a real haze of nostalgia. Whatever comes next for Vancouver Sleep Clinic, there’s no doubting that England is ready to wake up to his charms.