Privat Club is a small venue, and this made for a very shoulder-pressed crowd waiting for Turin Brakes to light up a damp Berlin evening. I was hoping this close atmosphere would not stifle the rich and expansive musical palette these guys bring. Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian’s beautifully sung, world-weary, and hooky compositions always occupied their own special corner in my musical life. Specifically internal—yet somehow simultaneously outward, raw, and even anthemic at times—I’ve never grown weary of them in the years since I first cycled through rainy London with them on the headphones. I was curious how such a sound would empty out into this body-crammed room.

It was a relaxed and down-to-earth start, with them easily laying into “Isolation”, the throaty and dense roller from their latest effort Wide-Eyed Nowhere (released Sept. ‘22). The intimacy of the space easily dispensed with any need to push out of the gates too hard.

Continuing their foray into the new material, they moved on to the fun, soulful “Up for Grabs”. This was a more raw version of what is an almost R&B-esque departure on the album. But the easy and seductive energy was still strong, helping the crowd shake off the rest of the dismal grey day. “Is this what you want?” sang Knights. Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s what we want.

“The Door” was the first of many tunes this evening from 2001’s “The Optimist LP”. This is arguably their most popular album...and seemingly one they enjoy as a wealthy supply for the road. Knights’ voice felt a bit loose, maybe just finding its stride. But I was starting to get a sense of this more road-ready incarnation of the Turin Brakes sound.

Indeed, as the evening continued on it became apparent that the musical heart of this group was beating just fine in this environment. And the radiant singing shone through easily as much as on any recording.

It’s really difficult to find a voice as singular as Olly Knights’. What gets me is the way it cuts through with clarity and soulful detail while still holding texture and twang for days, which is also how long I could talk about his voice and still not touch the experience of it. And on this evening, combined with Gale Paridjanian’s wonderful harmonies and bassist Eddie Myer’s great playing and singing, it shot through with lyrics that always seem like a private narrative that’s on a very public channel.

Perhaps the more tender and personal brush strokes of the Turin Brakes palette did not land where intended in this small, packed-in room. It was hard to really appreciate the almost-etheric “Future Boy” so early in a gig when people are still chatting and drinking. But that was okay; the energy and shimmer of the other material quite happily chaperoned the more sensitive stuff through the evening.

It was a thrill to have my home-listening expectations blown apart by a wide-ranging live Turin Brakes experience. These guys thrive off of the audience’s energy. And though the big hits “Painkiller” and “Underdog” pushed out the walls of this room, I felt that “Long Distance” was the biggest show of these guys’ musical blood and guts. It obviously hits a nerve for them after all these years. With drummer Rob Allum perfectly driving the transition from simmering verse into boiling-over chorus, Knights emoted out the words “I let somebody get under my skin…” with a gorgeously sneering vocal. I palpably felt the recognition shiver through the crowd. After years of traveling only through the recorded Turin Brakes world, I was more than happy to let this flesh-and-blood version get under my skin.

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Photo credit: Celine Lehmann