Start to End: Jeff Buckley's Grace @ Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, 27 June
Twenty years ago – give or take a month – Jeff Buckley drowned in the Mississippi River. It’s hard to process what Buckley’s influence has really been, with his poetic life and mythologised death, and the way his only true album Grace has ascended into the pantheon of the genuinely great. Grace is so utterly woven into the musical fabric around us that it simultaneously feels instant and contemporary, and decades older than its 24-odd years. In the true sense of the word, it is timeless.
Buckley borrowed so much and so beautifully from his musical surroundings. Swooping Sgt Peppery vocals, Indian and Arabian-tinged guitar riffs and Zeppelin-esque choruses, with and Motown and soul elements cutting right through the heart of the album. Corpus Christi Carol is based on a middle-English hymn while So Real hints at the scratchy guitar-drum combos and whispery vocals of Slint. The diversity is immense, and Buckley gave back what he took out. Countless artists credit him as an inspiration, and echoes of Grace can be heard across the musical spectrum.
The point here is that this is one hell of an album to try and cover in full. The pressure is very much on, and the bar is set very high. However, the Start to End band – assembled out of members of Admiral Fallow, Pronto Mama and a handful of other bands – are very much up to the task. The musician with the toughest task at hand is yllwshark singer Sam West. Buckley’s voice was a powerhouse, and this show lives or dies by his interpretation of it. Luckily, West’s voice is utterly stunning, capturing the power of the source material and turning a cramped Sneaky Pete’s into a cavernous hall, echoing his words around a raptured room. The precise falsetto pronunciation of Lilac Wine and Corpus Chrsti Carol are captivating while the grungy roar of Eternal Life is cutting.
This is the last night of the band's mini-tour, and the band are clearly enjoying themselves in a sold-out room full of friends and admirers. West jokes with the crowd and indulges in a hilariously overwrought, melodramatic breath at the beginning of Hallelujah. That the jovial crowd is immediately silenced by his singing speaks to the power of the interpreters as well as the source material.
Start to End's shows are brave shows to put on, and there aren’t many bolder choices than Grace to attempt. But this is a triumph.