iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
On Friday we went to the beautiful and impressive Sage in Gateshead (i.e. South Newcastle but don't let them hear you say that) to see Tom McRae supported by Brian Wright. It's by far the nicest venue we've ever been to, all glass and aluminium and polished wood and airy spaces. Maybe we've been going to the wrong gigs.

Steven Moffatt describes Doctor who star Matt Smith as an "elegant shambles". That pretty much describes this gig. Almost from the word go the bassist had problems with his amp, and Tom was forced to extemporise with a version of I Ain’t Scared Of Lightning (read from his own tea towel merchandise) while Things were done, none of which appeared to make much noticeable difference. Then it turns out cellist Oli Kraus had been urgently recalled to the US where his wife was having a baby, resulting in a large cardboard standee of Captain Jack Sparrow acting as hilarious stand-in for the whole gig (ably supported by the stylings of Brian Wright on his slide guitar). And just generally there was a spirit of fun, constant messing about: trying to get the drummer to crack up when the entire band was singing close harmonies; Brian whistling cheerfully during Still Love You; seguing from Still Love You into a version of Rihanna's "Umbrella" ("Tombrella"). Tom was in a chatty mood and it was a hugely enjoyable, relaxed occasion, and the bad were so tight and well-rehearsed they rose above every disruption.

I'm terrible at remembering the order of a setlist, but the songs were:

Mermaid Blues
Me and Stetson
I Ain’t Scared Of Lightning
Walking 2 Hawaii
Dose Me Up (End Of The World News)
Summer Of John Wayne
Streetlight
Please (up tempo version)
Still Love You (plus 'Tombrella')
Karaoke Soul
Silent Boulevard

(encore)
Draw Down the Stars (The Girl Who Falls Downstairs)
Bloodless
Boy With The Bubblegun

Given that we saw the opening gig of the Alphabet of Hurricanes tour, it's both remarkable and pleasing how much variation there was between the two shows. I got to hear a number of personal favourites, including Mermaid Blues, Walking 2 Hawaii, Bloodless, Karaoke Soul and Summer of John Wayne. There was also a lot of variety. Mermaid Blues was a stunning 'cold open'; pure A Capella, just Tom's soaring voice in a silent room for the entire song. Really great. Streetlight used the whole band in close harmony for the chorus. Draw Down the Stars was sung solo but with looped backing harmonies and lyrics from The Girl Who Falls Down Stairs near the end. Bloodless was sung entirely acoustic and off-mike, resulting in the audience spontaneously singing along to almost the entire song (something I don't normally like as the crowd invariably expect the album version note for note, but which really worked here).

Brian Wright provided some superb and at times frenetic guitaring, and sweet backing vocals. He opened the gig with a solo acousitc selection of some of his own fine songs, including one of my favourites, Radar, plus Former Queen of Spain, Striking Matches, and War on Wilcox and a newer song I liked but can't name.

If I've a complaint about the evening, it's that the room could have taken many more people, and those missing people really missed out on some good music. But the sound system was perfect, the view was perfect, and the audience were appreciative. A great experience, warm and inclusive, in a stunning venue.

I also picked up 'The Streetlight Collection' containing 18 of Tom's b-sides & rarities, only about seven of which I'd heard previously. 'Out of This' is outstanding and should definitely have found its way onto an album.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
We went to see what turned out to be the inaugural date of Tom McRae's Alphabet of Hurricanes tour last night, in the reasonably tiny upstairs room of the O2 Academy2, Newcastle. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, although the fact that the doors opened half an hour late did result in moderate hypothermia. Sadly no-one has yet invented Warm Mulled Guinness1 so I was forced to warm myself on regular Guinness. You can't beat the taste of beer out of plastic2.

Brian Wright provided a really fine support act with a stripped down one-man-and-guitar (and-beard) performance. It's also possible he was stoned. Although I'm allergic to country I can generally suppress my immune reaction if it's blended with healthy doses of blues, rock and folk, and it helps that he's a deceptively intelligent writer. Of the new material I think Queen Junk (or whatever it's called) is borderline genius. Great to hear Radar too.

Wright also provided guitar, harmonica, backing vocals and the occasional banjo for Tom's six-piece band, the largest group he's ever toured with and one that kicked out a lot of good noise. Tom played for about an hour and a half and delivered some powerful singing and his usual self-deprecating banter between the tracks. As near as I can remember it the setlist (in approximate order) was:

an alphabet of hurricanes can't blow this drifter homeAlphabet of Hurricanes
Me & Stetson
Summer of John Wayne
End of the World News
A&B Song
Please
Walking2Hawaii
American Spirit
One Mississippi
Still Love You
Silent Boulevard

(encore)
My Vampire Heart
Draw Down the Stars
Boy with the Bubblegun

I can't begin to imagine why Alphabet of Hurricanes is not on the album which bears its name. It's a lovely song and if it's worthy of starting the new tour it's surely worth a place on the record. I was surprised that the new material didn't dominate more, although the choices were undeniably the right ones. Summer of John Wayne is one of my favourites from the new album and Please was the superior downtempo version from the Recorded at Gunpoint EP, while Still Love You's spare charm was boosted by a bigger finish and plenty of audience participation, plus a valiant attempt to get the venue's mirrorball working.

The benefit of the bigger band was really felt on the pacier tracks. Me & Stetson really rocked with a six-piece band behind it, as did End of the World News, A&B Song, Silent Boulevard and Boy With the Bubblegun. Brian Wright knows his way around an electric guitar. The sound was comparable to the Tom McRae Live album with a couple of notches more oomph and the benefit of an actual drummer.

The other tracks were a mix of familiar standbys but nonetheless I was very glad to hear One Mississippi, Walking2Hawaii and My Vampire Heart. Draw Down the Stars was an absolutely beautiful interpretation with some great harmonies.

We had a really fun night. Janet picked up a couple of t-shirts (the McRae one bearing a quote from that title track that's not on the album3), and I picked up Brian Wright's new one House on Fire which is setting off my country allergies but has some interesting material when I can stop sneezing.

As for the album, I had the benefit of Amazon's snafu when they briefly released it on 1st Feb so I've lived with it a while. I really like it. Economical, bleak and uplifting it's a throwback to McRae's debut sound but also absorbs some americana to surprising effect. One moment he's croaking along to plucked strings, the next delivering a soaring ballad, then singing the blues by way of The White Stripes. It feels like a moonlit walk after the expansive highway of King of Cards. Although it slowly reveals itself to be less sombre than it first appears, it's as uncommercial as anything he's ever done. It's good, but it's tough to see this being his breakout success.
--
1 And by 'sadly' I mean 'mercifully'.

2 And by 'can't beat' I mean 'should never willingly experience'.

3 Okay, I'll let it go.
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Woo hoo! Have tickets to see the Mope King himself (sorry Dan) Tom McRae in the autumn, and it turns out that his support act will be the inestimable Brian Wright. Two great acts for the price of one.

I first saw Brian Wright doing a guest song at a Hotel Cafe tour, then later supporting Mr Mcrae, and then as a full member of the Hotel Cafe. I think he's a deceptively rich songwriter who often transcends the various country/honky tonk genres he writes in. There are some good examples of his range of stuff on his myspace page (with his band The Waco Tragedies), from the foot-stomping Glory Hallelujah to the freewheeling Morning Cigarette and the wistful Neighborhood. The only one I'm not keen on is the None More Country Bluebird.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
On Thursday we drove up to Edinburgh to see the Hotel Cafe tour headlined by Tom McRae. We went to the Hotel Cafe tour in Newcastle in 2006 and we saw him solo in Edinburgh last year so this fused the two experiences. The Hotel Cafe concept is a fantastic idea which manages to highlight artists you may (or may not) like while never staying still for long enough that you get bored with any one singer.

Cut for length )

The gig lasted about three hours all told, ending about 11.30. Overall it was a fantastic experience.

The night sky was so clear and brilliant I actually made a brief pit-stop on the way home just to stare at it. I can't remember the last time I saw so many stars away from light-pollution. The constellations were almost lost amidst the background stars. It was a truly gob-smacking sight, and a fine end to a fine evening.

Tom McRae

Nov. 5th, 2007 01:57 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
We drove up to Edinburgh yesterday. It's a beautiful drive full of desolate winding roads, and at this time of year the countryside is intensely autumnal. I've never seen so many shades of orange.

The city itself is lovely, of course. I've never visited Edinburgh just for its own sake and had a proper look around, and sadly we didn't manage to do that yesterday either. I'll have to go back. We did walk up to the castle briefly after dark, then meandered back down past bagpipers and tourist attractions and shops selling pastel-coloured tartan (which is if possible more hideous than normal tartan.) I'd have taken pictures but the photographs on my battered old phone are terrible in low light. You can count the individual photons that make it to the sensor.

The Tom McRae gig... )

The scenic drive was somewhat less scenic and more taxing in the pitch black at 11 p.m. But we survived, and even got to see a fox retreating into the roadside hedge at one point.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
It's been a fairly hectic weekend all told. By which I mean not even remotely hectic by most reasonable standards, but the kind of weekend which involves constant socialising - very pleasant, but also tiring!

On Friday we went to see Tom McRae and an ensemble of other singer-songwriters at the Carling Academy 2 in Newcastle. Lengthy rambling about Tom McRae )

Then we went home and spent the rest of the evening boozing with Janet's brother and one of our friends back at our place, then spent the whole of Saturday doing much the same thing, with a short interval in the middle to have a meeting with a mortgage adviser and arrange a new mortgage deal (our existing one comes to an end on 1st Jan). Saturday night involved much boozing and watching Miyazaki's Nausicca, a film we've never got around to watching, and which I enjoyed very much.

Today we went on a day trip out to Warkworth Castle in Northumberland with another friend and one of his friends, which was fun. We had a very nice carvery lunch at the Hermitage Hotel and the castle, while mostly ruined, is very impressive. Only the fact that the wind was a-howlin' and the rain was a-downpourin' kept it from being entirely fun. My ears are just now beginning to warm up and stop hurting.

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