|Live Reviews January 2008|
Quick-links to sub-sections:
Steve Forbert and The Soundbenders/Southern Tenant Folk Union - Dingwalls, London 17th January 2008
Ryan Bingham, Liam Gerner, God Fearing Atheists, and Adriana - King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow - 13th January 2008
Steve Earle - Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow - 17th January 2008
Seasick Steve - Astoria, London - 24th January 2008
The Boston Tea Party, Celtic Connections – The Tall Ship, Glasgow - 23rd January 2008
|Reviews so far this month for Steve Forbert and The Soundbenders/Southern Tenant Folk Union, Ryan Bingham, Liam Gerner, God Fearing Atheists, and Adriana, Steve Earle, Seasick Steve and the Boston Tea-Party|
|Steve Forbert and The Soundbenders/Southern Tenant Folk Union - Dingwalls, London 17th January 2008|
Review by Jonathan Aird
Having seen Steve solo a couple of times in the last few years I was interested to see what he'd be like with a full band. Hopefully it would help overcome what has been clearly an annoyance to him in the past - audience members being distracting. Arguably he should just put up with this and play through it, but certainly the last time I saw him he was not happy with one persistent offender!
The second interesting thought was that it's thirty years since his first album "Alive on Arrival" was released, something of a milestone which surely will have an influence on the playlist, although he does have another new album out as well. What would have happened without the years of recording hiatus following his fourth album is of course an impossible question to answer, but he's clearly been making up for lost time over the last few years. The "new Dylan" tag was, of course, a curse, and he isn't Dylan, but he is a songwriter of some clout.
Dingwalls is an odd venue, small, and predominantly seated - tables and rather uncomfortable chairs that leave your clothes smelling of sick. It's probably only with the smoking ban that you get to notice these things - and at least this way it's only the clothes that end up smelling bad ! I got up by the small stage - I'd rather be standing, but that clearly wouldn't go down well with those seated behind me. Looking around I got the odd feeling that, bar staff apart, I'm about the youngest person in the room. That's not an overly good feeling.
The support band was Southern Tenant Folk Union - a five piece of upright bass, violin, mandolin and two acoustic guitars. They are playing without their banjo player, which is a pity. They quote The Carter family and DIllard & Clarke as influences, and they play a hot bluegrass sound, touched with a leavening of Gram Parsons (on the eerie Cocaine) and yes a few licks that the latter-day Byrds would certainly have played. This is indeed a good band. They bash out a 45 minute set which includes Cocaine, Changeling Child, Let it roll, her love's gone cold, and Blackjack David - introduced as a traditional folk song they learnt off an Incredible String Band album ! A good ensemble, I particularly enjoyed Eamonn Flynn's powering mandolin.
Steve and the Soundbenders came out after a very short interval. The soundbenders are Steve Allen (electric lead guitar), Bobby Lloyd Hicks (drums), and Lorne Rall (electric bass). Steve kicked right into Thinkin' (off Alive on Arrival) and everything was as I'd hoped it might be. The band lifted Steve and he seemed in good spirits and unfazed by anything (except perhaps when the spot lights were put into his eyes !).
There followed a great set (full list at the end) with a mixture of mainly the first album, Alive on Arrival, the new album, Strange names & new sensations, and tracks from The American in me (early 1990's). Mixed in was Ray Davies' Starstruck which seems to be a staple of his set and a few oddments from along the way. The middle of the set was the "fossil fuels" section - Baghdad Dream, The American in Me with it's driving theme and the crowd pleasing ecological concerned Oil Song, which was a single that was put out around the time of Jack Rabbit Slim ("but, it's on The Best Of...do we have The Best Of tonight ? Sorry, we don't have The Best Of tonight"). Steve did Grand Central Station and Middle Age with just him and acoustic guitar/harmonica, representing the oldest and the newest songs - the young kid busking for change and the somewhat older man reflecting on life passed being more than life left to come, a theme which also came up on Thirty More Years (and I'm out of here) which is also on the new album. Straight forward reflections that life is not infinite, time passes and you get older. Steve seems comfortable with this.
The Jimmy Rodgers song - Miss the missippi and you - was met politely. It's understandable that Steve would be interested in a famous singer from his hometown, and since his album of covers earned a Grammy nomination I guess he's got good reason to be proud of his work on it. I guess that Jimmy Rodgers is just not that big a thing over here, and the audience seemed relieved when the "couple of Jimmy Rodgers songs" turned out to be just one.
Sure was better back then was introduced with a discussion of where Jimmi Hendrix had lived in London, and also garnered us some fine guitar work from Steve Allen. In response to calls for Romeo's Tune Steve called back "that one comes at the end", so it was bitter sweet to hear those opening chords, but what a fantastic song it is with the full band, underlining the folk-rock magnificence of Steve's first two albums. At the end the audience was on it's feet calling for more, but from previous experience I was a little doubtful of our chances, but no - out came the band again. A two song encore, then off, and the crowd were up and stomping for more. When Bobby Lloyd Hicks & Lorne Rall reappeared on stage I must admit I just thought they were collecting their gear. I noticed that several people had already left. We clapped on, and beyond any expectation there it was - a second encore of Get Well Soon off Little Stevie Orbit (his third album currently lost to CD release along with the eponymous fourth album). Not a song I'd ever expected to hear live, but driven along by the band it was as good as the day it was recorded. The boy has done it again !
Real Live Love
Born Too Late
Going down to Laurel
I just work here
Miss the missippi and you
American in me
Grand Central Station
What kinda guy ?
Seaside brown-eyed girl
Sure was better back then
Loch Lomond / Midsummer Night's Toast
Thirty more years
Cannot win if you do not play
Get well soon
|Ryan Bingham, Liam Gerner, God Fearing Atheists, and Adriana - King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow - 13th January 2008|
Review by Paul Kerr
Riding high on the fulsome reviews of his album, “Mescalito” which featured on several of 2007’s best of lists, Texan Bingham drew a large and appreciative crowd on a dreich Sunday night in Glasgow. They were offered a well-oiled band that played hard with plenty of pedal steel and slide guitar, much crunchier than one would expect from the album. Bingham has a good gravely voice but his songs, although up to par, tended to blend into a litany of hard times in the Texan dustscape. Hard Times came across as a hard-edged update of the Band while Take It Easy Mama was like a souped up J.J. Cale. The crowd lapped it up despite a lack of exuberance from the stage. It may be because of the (very) slight physical similarity but I had a nagging feeling that if James Blunt came from Texas he would be very much like Mr. Bingham. And I think the Stetson looks too new.
With three support slots time was tight and each had only a short space to impress. Opener, local girl Adriana had to battle against some noisy bar props but ably supported by her guitarist, Giuseppe Fucito, she performed well. God Fearing Atheists stormed through their usual strong set of fine americana but best of all was Liam Gerner, an Australian. Armed with a guitar and looking a little bit like a bedraggled Art Garfunkel he took command of the stage. Accompanied on a couple of songs by Corby Schaub from the Bingham band on mandolin, he came across with the vim and vigour of a younger Loudon Wainwright although his delivery was at time reminiscent of Patterson Hood of the Drive By Truckers. On this showing he is someone to watch out for.
|Steve Earle - Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow - 17th January 2008|
Review by Mike Ritchie
NOT a classic Steve Earle gig for hardcore troubadour purists but his brilliant songbook ensures that his shows are always worth attending even if they misfire in places. Arguably, a patchy Earle performance is still head and shoulders above what a great many acts touring today can offer. The loved-up, happily married (for the seventh time) New York-based, hip-hop sampling Earle clearly upset some on this birthday outing with his new CD songs – “play some real music” was one angry call from the dark depths, but you would dare the shouter to actually say it to Earle’s face.
There’s no way, despite the gentle sweetness of current material, has Earle laid down his protest placards. Just listening to the edgy anti-death penalty drama and tragedy of Billy Austin or the bile of Rich Man’s War or the angry lament of Steve’s Hammer reveals he will rail against and write about issues that bug him till his dying day. And amen to that.
In this Dukes-free zone and in the space of two hours, Earle raised the heat with his lyrical ire through classic cuts but he also showed he has the guts to try something new, hence the DJ-guy on stage issuing sampled sounds. These were as about as welcome as a Kanye West track at a line dancing club, but Earle has never been afraid of a head-on skirmish. After all, he’s made a career slagging off various US administrations and the warmongers in their ranks. The Grammy Award nomination, “Washington Square Serenade” couldn’t be in starker contrast to the belligerent rant of “The Revolution Starts Now.” I admit, it’s taking me some time to get my head around the current CD such is the style change. It’s a bit like your football team suddenly changing the colour of its strip and expecting everyone to instantly approve.
Interestingly, he introduced the “…Serenade” stuff later in the set and brought on, as well as the DJ, Alison - Mrs Earle - Moorer, to flesh them out. The songs weren’t the highlight and City of Immigrants was as dire here as it is on the record. Satellite Radio romped along pleasingly enough as did Jericho Road and Tom Waits’ Way Down In The Hole. But, it will be interesting to see if he plays them years down the line as he did with crowd pleasers My Old Friend The Blues, The Devil’s Right Hand, Fort Worth Blues, Now She’s Gone, Copperhead Road or Christmas in Washington.
The last song in my list brings me to the venue and its lack of atmosphere. On previous masterclass visits to his spiritual Glasgow home at Barrowland, this song and the raucous, but mainly in tune, crowd chorus made the hairs on my neck stand up. Here in the posh seats it was like a secondary school choir practice with everyone too reticent to give it a real go. Maybe it’s the soporific state the comfy seating creates. For a multi million pound venue it’s also hard to understand why the acoustics in the opening tracks were dismal. How difficult can it be to get one singer and his guitar instantly, clearly audible? Next time he’s back, here’s hoping Steve orders a “taxi for Barrowland.” We’ll be waiting, waiting for a classic.
|Seasick Steve - Astoria, London - 24th January 2008|
Review by Jonathan Aird
'Course if I spent the whole year seeing gigs by people called Steve then I'd still have a pretty good year ahead of me - already there are Steve Earle's UK dates and there's also Steve Wynn in a few weeks. Hmm, it could be done, I suppose.
Seasick Steve has had a bit of a meteoric rise over the past year - I'm pretty sure he was playing The Borderline at the end of 2005, quite a leap up to The Astoria. Just goes to show what an appearance on the BBC's Later can achieve.
His two albums, Cheap (which reminds me a lot of Swamp Cabbage's album Honk - growly thick as the swamp thumping guitar and off kilter lyrics) and Dog House Music seem to have captured the public's imagination due I guess to their straight forward no-nonsense approach to blues based songs. There's also the added allure of his tales of a hobo life of train hopping, rough sleeping and surviving on cheap food - songs of hard travellin' in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and the early Dylan. Naturally there's more than a touch of the contrived in the marketing - the album graphics are made to look as if they've been thrown together on the cheap, and Steve himself is quite clearly now able to afford a newer pair of trousers than the ancient garment he wears on stage. But since we, the audience, want a grizzled blues veteran then a grizzled blues veteran we will get.
It's a sold out gig but The Astoria is hardly heaving when I arrive. Of course, when I bought the ticket I'd forgotten that The Astoria runs a club night on Thursday's, which starts at 11PM. Which means everything has to be done & dusted by ~10:30 to give a chance for a bit of tidying before the next lot of punters come along. It then becomes quite important when the support act comes on. Tonight it's a fairly early start around 8, with "Billie the Vision and the dancers" - introduced as an unusual band from Sweden.
They are a seven piece band of four men (drums, acoustic & electric guitar, lead singer/tambourine juggler) and three women (drums, bass, trumpet/accordian), my initial thought as they kicked off was Love, around the time of Forever Changes - there's thumping bass overlayed by acoustic guitar strumming and latinesque trumpet. Then after a while that image faded as the cross-dressing lead singer, whose name might be Billie or Pablo or maybe Lars, took us into a fantasy world where all songs are about the life of Pablo, whether the rest of the band want them to be or not. A typical song introduction - "so you know it's a common thing I guess that we all sometimes have dreams about a man from Argentina". Everything is full of energy and it's hard not to be swept along, musically they could be mainstream, lyrically not and visually very different.
I found something nagging at my brain - his voice really reminded me of someone, and then a flash of light - Bright Eyes ! So imagine a band that sound a bit like Bright Eyes a bit like Love and look like they've walked off the set of a teen movie - both in dress sense and general bopping aroundness. A band with great self belief - the merchandising stand is pointed out midset because "we are the best band in the world but we are also the poorest band in the world". A really good opening band.
The guy who announces Seasick Steve at 9 says that he'd first seen him in April 2004 at the 12 bar club - playing to around 20 people. And here we are in a now fully packed out Astoria, with a Seasick Steve banner raised across the back of the stage ("I ain't never seen it before today it scared the shit out of me" Steve will quip later) and two marching drummers heralding Steve's arrival (one drummer is Steve's son, the other the drummer off his first album). Then Steve arrives on stage from the audience level, strumming away at Yellow Dog and all doubts vanish - here is a howling guitar thumping aged and bearded real deal.
He settles briefly into a wooden chair ("I stole these from the fellas at the NME, I don't think they know about it") for Cut My Wings, and then is up and raising the audience to sing along "just like a baptist choir" to Things Go Up. And everything is just great, the sound is just like the albums, one man, one howl of a voice, a series of increasingly battered guitars and sometimes a drummer who knows how to thump all kinds of hell out of his kit. It's a low down and stripped back, but life affirming, sound.
Then Steve tells us how he's always wanted to do a duet. Oh-oh. And he saw this woman on "the U-tube". Oh-no. "She was rockin' that Jools Holland show". Oh god, he means KT Tunstall doesn't he? In a word, yes. So out she comes and they do a song which might be called Happy Man, and she ruins it, and I am not a happy man, but she doesn't stay. Steve also gets a girl up on stage to sing to, which I didn’t think worked too well either. The optimism of the greyer members of the audience waving their arms when Steve asked if there was a woman who wanted to come up on stage was quite amusing. Of course he picked a rather younger lady.
The set continues with us getting Fallen off a rock, Save me (played on the 1 string diddlybow – “you won’t love me once you heard this”), a couple of songs I didn’t recognise, possibly off his next album. One tells us the best way to avoid picking up large biting insects in the Southern states. And, despite the bloke who hollers the same words every 2 or 3 minutes throughout, “it’s all good”. There’s a fairly long story about setting up a camp in the woods over one winter – I like the stories, don’t get me wrong, but I wonder just how drunk you have to be to find them as funny as some clearly do. Even when KT comes back out for My baby sent me a letter she doesn’t spoil it as she just adds flute and some backing vocals (to tell the truth it's a set highlight). Dog House Boogie is superb, Steve is now bored with telling the story of leaving home at 14, so this is replaced with “blah blah blah, blah blah blah, blah, blah blah”. And at every call of “now we going to boogie” the guitar gets heavier and the drumming raised to stick splintering levels. Superb.
All too soon it’s over – but not before Steve’s gig at the Royal Albert Hall in October is touted. “Imagine that they’re going to have a bum playing the Albert hall. Maybe there is hope for the music business”.
I guess the lone guitar player on the Central line at Tottenham Court Road had picked the right night and the right place to go busking , with the passing crowd thinking "the next big thing could be him".
|The Boston Tea Party, Celtic Connections – The Tall Ship, Glasgow - 23rd January 2008|
Review by Mike Ritchie
This was the first time I’d boarded The Tall Ship, the SV Glenlee, currently being restored at its mooring on the north bank of the River Clyde downstream from another marine venue, The Ferry where I’ve attended many a gig. The Tall Ship’s atmosphere is cosily fantastic, an antidote to the wild and windy January storm whipping up outside. The quality musical entertainment instantly made us forget anything else for two sublime hours that slipped by quicker than a rogue trader can empty a bank’s coffers.
Alistair Moock, Kris Delmhorst, Tim Gearan and Rose Polenzani - described in one preview article as a “gathering of major creative forces among the current crop of Massachusetts singer/songwriters” - were the faultlessly impressive Boston Tea Party. They sang and played with such warmth and delicacy, care and spark that I immediately regretted I’d only a ticket for one of the three nights they were performing together. Before the show, I had heard a little of Alistair’s music and I’ve seen Kris when she supported one of my favourite bands, Clem Snide (what’s happening with them?) on a previous visit to the city. I confess I hadn’t heard of Tim or Rose so now, fortunately, that’s been corrected.
In addition to singing their own songs, each other’s they also gave us some written by other Boston area musicians where the talent stream must be limitless. Each offering, individually and collectively, was a gem. The honeyed harmonies showed how much they enjoyed sharing the same stage and the same musical tastes. So many highlights but the duet between Alistair and Kris on a song titled Dance With Me was a meeting of voices Emmylou and Gram would have stopped to admire. Tim, with Randy Newman-type grimaces and vocals, was playful throughout and his subdued electric guitar accompaniment dropped notes like raindrops into the tunes while Rose - invited by the other three to make the trip to Scotland - has a beautiful, evocative voice that made me think of Joni Mitchell. It’s enjoyable to be introduced, especially at such close quarters like this, to new artistes whose uplifting music charmed and warmed all of us land lubbers below decks for the night. A rare treat.