She Keeps Bees

She Keeps Bees


Shamefully, this is only my first gig at Gullivers. The 1st floor room above a pub offers kitsch decor, with heavy gold curtains surrounding the low stage. The walls and ceiling are deep red, with small chandeliers hanging from bosses, giving the room a vampiric quality. Shuffling to the front is essential if we’re to have any chance of seeing what’s going on.

After a brief and very much savoured encounter with She Keeps Bees’ Jessica Larrabee at the door; Onions are in full flow as I arrive. They’re from Manchester but have a Merseybeat sense of humour about them – occasionally sounding similar to Alt-J. The sporadic comedic singing voices here are a little off-putting at times. I’m kind of here to experience the darker side of rock and roll. When they have their straight faces on, they’re really very good. Maybe it’s me who should lighten up…

… but no, I enjoy all thing somber above all else. Melancholy optimism is the best way I can think to describe She Keeps Bees. It’s the blues, but Jessica sings it in such a glorious fashion it’s hard to feel too downhearted. ‘Calm Walk In The Dark’ is a poignant song title of theirs that encapsulates their general mood. They recently released their 3rd album ‘Eight Houses’, which replicates the previous two in the respect that it monopolised my music player for a good few weeks after the first listen. Jess’s voice is addictive, and she chooses the right words and melody to exploit it.

From early on, it becomes apparent this room is ideal for housing a great sound. Partner and producer Andy LaPlant joins her on drums, donning a trademark beanie hat and hitting a lazy beat. He and the additional guitarist (sorry, I missed the name) do a fine job supporting that voice. Groove Armada have utilised her talents, and she has drawn worthy comparisons to Cat Power. Opening a song with just her vocal power is enough to silence any room. She’s also great on guitar.

There are 8 or 9 tunes from their back catalogue that I’d really love to hear tonight, and the rest are all pretty good too so; win – win. They start as on the new album with ‘Feather Lighter’, gently setting the mood. ‘Breezy’ speeds things up a little and ‘Is What It Is’ stuns the room with it’s reflective slow vibe. Another one of my nine from the checklist – ‘Owl’ maintains the ambience, and ‘Both Sides’ cranks up the volume as Jess sways about the stage thrashing her guitar.

The crowd struggle to fill this modest size room, but all present are visibly deeply into this band. Girls sing along with eyes closed while the fellas stomp and headbang in a middle-aged fashion, whooping between songs, creating a cheer that belies the headcount. “Fucking ace” wins appropriate comment of the night.


Jessica Larrabee. Photo by Peter Rea

‘Wasichu’ proves to be a highlight (not initially one of my 9). The slow beginning with heartfelt lyrics slowly builds and they flow straight into the heavy and determined sound of ‘Greasy Grass’. ‘Raven’ ends a run of almost the entire new album, and then ‘Gimme’ from their first album, Nests, proves a crowd favourite judging by the reaction during the intro. It’s now my favourite too… the guy in front of me stomps about uncontrollably in a drunken frenzy, almost breaking my nose with the back of his head on numerous occasions.

Jess thinks out loud during breaks, discussing anything that springs to mind in her heavy New York accent. She tells of when she broke her ankle and self-medicated with Doritos and a certain style of cigarette, adding that it’s important part of the body that should be looked after and has rights – “ankles now!”… she steps up to the keyboard as if she’s never seen it before and speculates that the thing is probably more intelligent than her on account of the mathematical diagrams on it… and she muses that maybe she should have put the band name on the merchandise that they’ve finally gotten around to producing, so we can all become walking billboards. I get the impression that we are all now her friends.

Jess most likely actually does keep bees – they’re buzzing around inside her brain, tampering with her thought processes, until it’s time for her to unleash another sublime tune which typically carries a mood that belies her general persona.

‘All Or None / Dark Horse’ starts acapella aside from her Kenny Rogers signed tambourine, which has 8 chimes left on it, along with a load of duct tape. A pounding beat joins in, slowly building tension and forcing Jess to sing louder and with more passion. Superb. There’s nowhere for the band to escape to so they promise a few more tunes after much persuasion. ‘Release’ builds nicely for the finale ‘Vulture’ – a favourite from the second album, Dig On. The ending is loud and brash, expending any spare energy and leaving the crowd still wanting more. There are still a few songs I’d like to hear… maybe next time.

People gather to speak to her and she hugs a few people that she recognises, before she escapes to sell the famed merch, at the back of the room. Songs like these deserve a much wider audience, but I’m happy to continue witnessing the band in intimate venues like this. I simply can’t get enough. This truly is blues for the soul.

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Peter Rea

I like to go see fresh new music at Manchester's superb selection of smaller venues, and then share my enthusiasm.