Words by Harry Sharples
Traipsing down the stairs of YES and into the dimly lit, intimate basement venue, it was difficult to imagine the experience that everyone there would have over the next few hours. At about eight in the evening, the subterranean bar was sparsely populated, with a small group of beret and leather jacket-wearing drinkers giving the place the feel of a 1941 meeting of the French resistance. Soon enough, though, the basement grew less and less roomy as the band took to the stage.
Typically on time at exactly 8:45, Ethan P. Flynn took to the stage, welcomed by applause from a now greatly expanded audience. Without much ado, he began the night with ‘Crude Oil Pt.1’. It is difficult to describe the effect that Flynn had on YES Basement, and the way that the audience responded to his music; it was as though, for an hour, he held the audience in a trance-like state, mesmerised by a performance underpinned by a profound sadness.
For much of the night, the crowd were held in complete silence, hanging off each word and chord that drifted from the stage. At times, the performance was so sparse that a palpable melancholy could be felt between each note, the eyes of the audience fixed unwaveringly on Flynn, mouths often slightly agape, waiting reverentially for the next whisper or shout. Between songs, however, and sometimes even within them, this respectfully hushed crowd was transformed into a sea of nodding and headbanging (‘Abandon All Hope’, for instance) as Flynn ramped up the energy into screeching vocals and driving guitars. After almost every song, the final note rang out, an almost audible intake of breath, baited until the words, “Thank you,” signalling to the crowd that they could begin their cheers and claps.
“This is the first time trying to recreate the studio album live so it’s a bit of an experiment… these are the people that played on the album,” and what people they were; the sound of the live performance took the polish of the studio album and, somehow, managed to add even more soul and emotion. Flynn was flanked by cellist Felix, and Ava Gore, whose floating harmonies took the raw, woody appeal of Flynn’s sung lines and added to the sound an ethereal element. The result of the work of these four incredibly talented musicians was astounding, and many times I found myself wondering where on earth all the sound was coming from. They covered the Basement with a magnificently layered acoustic blanket.
What was remarkable about this gig was, despite Flynn’s relatively recent rise, the apparent affinity between crowd and artist. “It blew my mind that people know the words to that,” remarked Flynn in regards to ‘Crude Oil Pt3’ (the latter end of a 16-minute epic on his newest album); the crowd had swayed along and sung to the chorus of “been a little too sentimental for a little too long, think I’m fundamentally getting it wrong.” Not only did these people know the words to his songs, but there was something in their eyes as they sang along with him that showed they really felt them, and that his music spoke to something that everyone there felt a deep relation to.
Flynn’s most recent project is defined by hopelessness and a sense of melancholy. It felt at times, in fact, as though the 100 people in attendance were standing staring at a broken heart on stage, laid out in all its vulnerability and emotion. Flynn seemed to ask the audience to tap into this feeling within themselves, whatever the source, to unite together as an audience with any sense of gloom they may feel, and to allow his music to provide catharsis.
My main sense while leaving Flynn’s performance was excitement, awaiting with smug anticipation the day when I can brag, “I saw him before everyone liked him, you know.”
Words by Samuel Chamberlain
In early October, Ethan P. Flynn released his long-awaited debut album Abandon All Hope to substantial critical acclaim. With warbling vocals, sprawling instrumentals, and enigmatic yet contemplative lyricism, the laudation and commendation it received is certainly understandable, while his live show affirms that the praise Flynn receives is far from undeserving. The album’s titular track, as Flynn has previously disclosed, tells the tale of an American highwayman who, in purgatory, “is forced to repeat the act of robbing his own family.” It is this fascinating storytelling that makes his record thrilling, as it serves to reveal his emotional sincerity and sensibility while simultaneously incorporating narrative elements which could characterise Abandon All Hope as a concept album.
On ‘Leaving The Boys Behind’, Flynn demonstrates an intense and efficacious instrumental diversity, cleverly coalescing woodwind and chordophone to create a composition which is accomplished yet also unpolished, leaving room for his own raw vocals. The album’s most notable track is arguably ‘Crude Oil’, a 16-minute masterpiece which the Yorkshire-born artist has gone on to name his label after.
During his live performance, Flynn split this particular track into three separate sections, which proved tremendously effective and was received each time with vivacious passion by his engaged audience. Within the context of the record, ‘Crude Oil’ grapples with relationships, religion, and self-presentation as Flynn continues the tale of his highwayman, but also more directly laments “I don’t see it getting any better.”
Though the album may be downhearted and despondent at its roots, there are glimmers of optimism within Flynn’s song-writing: once again taking ‘Crude Oil’ as an example, he reaches the realisation that “it’s not gonna be that way forever,” offering a sense of hope amongst the vulnerability of the record as a whole.
From the moment that Flynn took to the stage, it was evident that his performance would be a testament to his extraordinary talent, justifying the confidence and support placed on him by artists such as David Byrne and FKA Twigs, both of whom he has worked with in the past. Though this may have been his first-ever headline tour, he navigated the set with remarkable expertise, demonstrating his natural proficiency on stage.
Flanked by the band he wrote and recorded ‘Abandon All Hope’ with, the Guildhall alumnus rocketed through an array of tracks grounded by the album itself. Towards the end of the set, Flynn launched into his 2020 debut single, ‘Everybody’s Dying to Meet You’, which began with experimental sounds reminiscent of his collaborator Jockstrap before bursting into an impeccable guitar solo, allowing an exhibition of his multi-instrumental capability. Throughout this, Ava Gore flawlessly aided Flynn as she did on his album, acting as backing vocalist, percussionist and keyboardist while also operating a synthesiser and a tambourine.
It can be said that Flynn is stronger with his band – all are experts in their craft – but as the performance progressed it became evident that he was the centrepiece, bringing mastery, skilfulness, and dexterity to the stage. Overall, it is clear that Ethan P. Flynn is undeniably one of the most interesting talents around at the moment; with his aptitude, erudition, and refinement, it’s hard to believe he’s only 25.