Being British affords lots of acts a bit of leeway in the US. They can dress, act, write and sing in ways that would connote a completely different persona coming from an American. Such is the case with ex-Test Icicle, Devonte Hynes AKA Lightspeed Champion. In the American blender of clichÃ©s, Hughes would be a nervous, emo kid with a penchant for oversharing, self deprecation, and all things Star Wars. His music would be compared to everything from Dashboard Confessional and Bright Eyes to the likes of Ben Folds and Jason Mraz. From the US point of view, one might also see a little Rivers Cuomo styling and some Andrew Bird in his solo experiment.
But something happens the minute a Brit opens his or her mouth from the stage; a whole new set of contextual cues come rushing in and the audience has to set up brand new parameters. The fey emotional notes change from Saddle Creek moments to Smiths' crescendos. The self-deprecation and self-awareness take on a new sense of quick wittedness. And the Star Wars obsession (as well as the multiple mentions of Lost's Oceanic 6) point more towards a cross Atlantic cultural consciousness than a nerdy touchstone.
Onstage, Hynes and Co. twist all of your preconceived notions, American or otherwise, even more. With a fabulous backing band compromised of a violinist, guitarist and drummer, the solo acoustic sounds Devonte has finally had a chance to explore with his post-Test Icicles persona take on a new guise. It helps to start the show with a cameo from a member of We Are Scientists, and to have a backing band made up of Martin Brignall AKA The Train Chronicles, Anna Prior, formerly of Dead Disco and the Ivories and ex-Hope of the States member, Mike Siddell to bring a new sense of collaboration and complexity. Lightspeed Champion songs, initially conceived in a depressed poorly lit bedroom, become grand flourishing expressions. Personal self-deprecating odes become shared rallying cries with a communal sense of youth and dread. The band adds to what was originally conceived, but Hynes is still able to strike a chord with the audience with his personality and his solo moments as well. His shyness and sometimes nervous meanderings do just as much to bring warmth to the live show as the songs do, and he endears himself to the audience from the very beginning. Then again, maybe it's just that his accent keeps reminding us that he's British, so we know exactly where he's coming from.