Wednesday
Jul072010

Elvis Costello & The Sugarcanes - 1st July @ Vicar Street

Elvis Costello performs at Dublin's Vicar Street with his band the Sugarcanes.Elvis Costello and his all star band The Sugarcanes played their first ever Irish gig on July 1st. It was also Costello's first Dublin gig since he stopped living here in Ireland some years ago. It was one of those gigs where it was hard to decide who enjoyed themselves more Elvis and the band or the audience. The Sugarcanes include many of the players who were on Costello's most recent album Secret, Profane & Sugercane. They are all amazing players and have their own projects but on the night Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Jerry Douglas on dobro and vocals, Mike Compton on mandolin and vocals, Jim Lauderdale on guitar and vocals, Dennis Crouch on double bass and Jeff Taylor on accordion and tin whistle were inspiring. Elvis played acoustic and four string electric guitar and song better than I've heard him in a long time. All of which gave them the scope to play whatever they wanted to, and much of what they played was spontaneous and a departure from the set list and all the more powerful for it.

The set included many songs from that aforementioned most recent album. Complicated Shadows, Hidden Shame, The Crooked Line and what was supposed to be the final song Sulphar To Sugarcane, which Elvis said was his I've Been Everywhere travel song, all sounded more at home on the stage than on the album. The set proper was followed by an extended encore which was, in turn, followed by a few more songs. Much to the delight of the enthralled gathering of friends and fans. Songs from his vast back catalogue included Alison, Red Shoes, Everyday I Write The Book, America Without Tears and Mystery Dance - songs which span his entire output but which easily adapted to this acoustic setting and gained a new perspective in their retelling.

Opening with Mystery Train outside songs chosen also included two George Jones associated songs The Race Is On and A Good Year For The Roses, which had excellent harmony vocalist Jim Lauderdale right up there with Elvis, both singing their hearts out. The Rolling Stone's Happy, The Grateful Dead's Friend Of The Devil, Rockpile's Girl's Talk, Nick Lowe's What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding were all included and delivered to the delight of the audience who sang along on many occasions.

There were also some new songs, including one recently co-written by Jim Lauderdale and Elvis. Another, new to me, song was about a vauderville entertainer who was playing cowboy songs about which Elvis joked that "there's never a good time to go into cowboy music". What ever the song and what ever the mood the song required here was a band who could deliver on that and make it look easy... and fun. Between songs Elvis joked with the audience, talked about the World Cup and how when they played support to Paul McCartney in Hyde Park England still had a chance to win. That was not to be, but this team played a blinder.

It was one of those magical gigs where the venue was right, the sound was right, the band was on top form and the entertainer did what he set out to do - he entertained and then some. It was a welcome return to Dublin...  from both sides of the stage.

Steve Rapid

Friday
Jun112010

The Tallest Of The Tall? - Whelan's 10 June

The Tallest Man On Earth 'The Wild Hunt'

I heard about this show via a MySpace (yes, remember MySpace?) link forwarded around.

Arriving to a sold out show is always a good feeling. On arrival at Whelan's Dublin I could taste a healthy dose of anticipation in the air.

Oddly enough, I noticed a large number of tall men in the audience. Perhaps they had seen the billing out front & thought to themselves 'I'll show him'. We were there, after all, to see The Tallest Man On Earth.

Cue the arrival of a very normal sized man stage left to a raucous cheer. Opening his set with the album opener 'The Wild Hunt' was a great place to start.

With a look of  Emile Hirsch from Into The Wild Kristian Matsson (Tallest Man's real name) was not going to let guitar pedal technical difficulties interrupt his opener, despite battery failure 3 times during the song. Matsson used the opportunity to show us his ability to stay in the moment - taking up exactly where he left off a minute earlier. He proved a humorous soul too, quipping "F*ck you Duracell!".

Firstly, let me say what a beautiful & intense performer Matsson is. A brilliant guitarist complete with vocal control is not something one comes across every day. And while the comparisons to early Gaslight period Dylan abound, Matsson is a far better guitar player than Dylan ever was & arguably a far more engaging stage presence (A big call, I know).

Secondly, I'd like to mention the fact that sometimes it takes more than technical ability & stage presence to really move an audience. Don't get me wrong. This crowd was being manipulated by Matsson as if we had all been invited to his house for a party that only he could throw. However, a friend & I commented that mid-way through the set, we felt we had heard the same song repeated over & over again - with different lyrics.

My major criticism of The Tallest Man On Earth would be this: he only ever got to 3rd gear. And 3rd gear is a good & sound gear. But what about 4th & 5th? At a show like this we want to be taken not just down the side streets, but we want to gush onto the highway in 5th gear & really hear the performer's musical engine take to the road.

Having said that, without a doubt, the anthemic 'King Of Spain' was a crowd favourite prompting a loud sing-along & the haunting 'Burden Of Tomorrow' reminded me of putting on a Dylan vinyl for the first time. Only this time, it was live & perfect in it's execution & vocal reach. 

The highlight of the evening was unquestionably the sublime rendition of Dylan's 1964 tune 'I'll Keep It With Mine' performed by Matsson & a mystery female guest invited up on stage. Positioning themselves very intimately on stage around one microphone with one guitar the duo cast a spell on the crowd.

Asking the sound man who the girl was he replied with a witty "The TM (Tour Manager), Girlfriend & Rodeo (I think he meant Roadie) all rolled into one!". If anyone knows who this mystery woman was, we'd be interested to know!

All in all, a fine show. I'd like to see Matsson again perform with a small ensemble. A small kit with brushes, an upright bass & a banjo (much missed from the album renditions) would be a welcome addition - just to get us out onto the highway of folk where we belong by the end of a set.

Check out The Tallest Man On Earth on MySpace here

Buy his album 'The Wild Hunt' here

JC

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