Calexico @ Olympia Theatre -Thurs 14 Feb 2013

Making their Olympia debut the seven piece band played a seamless and absorbing mix of song from their new album Algiers along with favourites from their previous albums. This was a partisan audience here for the first night of their European tour and to celebrate St. Valentine's Day. Calexico proved a suitable band for the occasion as there is more than a hint of border romance in their music. While it may not have been the most memorable gig that longtime Calexico fans would consider - that would, arguably be either The Button Factory against the backdrop of western movies and their gigs at The Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Weekend. However it was still a special show.

The twin founders of the band are guitarist/vocalist Joey Burns and master percussionist John Convertino. They were joined by regulars Paul Niehaus on pedal steel and guitar and Martin Wenk and Jacob Valenzuela on trumpets, keyboards, guitars and sundry percussion. They were rounded out by two additional members on upright and electric bass and keyboards. These players moved between several instruments often in the space of one number however the overall texture applied to their songs were an important part of the atmosphere of each song. There is a filmic quality to their music that is readily apparent live as it is on record.

There wasn't too much between song conversation although Joey Burns told the assembled fans that he was "really happy to be in Ireland on Valentine's Day". He wished us a "Happy Valentine's Day" at the top of the show but largely let the music do the talking. It lived up to the band name delivering aired psychedelics of California with the hot flavours of Mexico's musical heritage. The spanish guitar sound and twin trumpets conjured that image. Though at one point with Niehaus and Burns both played electric guitars and added a heavier element to the sound.

The songs featured several songs from Algiers like Fortune Teller and Maybe On Monday alongside selections from the albums The Black Light, Hot Rail amongst others. The penultimate song in the main set was a cracking, faithful rendition of Arthur Lee's Alone Again Or, whose band Love who undoubtably were an influence on Calexico in their formative years. Few would have been disappointed with their night out. Burns and Convertino have led this band since it's inception and have grown with the band. Burns vocals have grown into a vital and powerful asset and Convertino is an outstanding drummer. Calexico are a unique and purposeful band and the Olympia was an ideal place to start a tour. The applause throughout was real and both sides of the stage seemed to enjoy the experience.


Ryan Bingham & band @ Whelans 9th Nov 2012 


Having a new album to tour brings Ryan Bingham back to Dublin for a sold out show in Whelans. With his new three-piece band he has lost of none of the dynamics and overdrive that has been such a part and parcel of his live oeuvre.

The timbre of his voice is still one of a much older person, with a lifetime of experience. Yet Bingham is still young and draws his wry observations of a world he has encountered, first or second-hand, as he travels and performs. His fourteen song set included a selection of songs taken from all his four albums as he seems to discount a low key, independent debut.

From the current album, Tomorrowland, he naturally played a large selection which included Western Shore, Flower Bomb, Never Far Behind, Guess Who's Knocking and Too Deep To Fill. Earlier albums were represented by Dylan's Hard Rain, Southside of Heaven, Sunrise, Sunshine and Tell My Mother I Miss Her So. These were delivered with a variety of electric guitars that included a couple of Telecasters, a Gibson SG and a Les Paul as well as a host of effects pedals.

For a large part of the set Ryan led the sound on twelve and six string acoustic guitars. The latter lost a string mid-set, though he carried on playing with the offending string hanging loose, much like the band, who backed Bingham with a sense of accomplished abandon. Drummer Matt Sherrod, who played on the new album, with bassist Kelly Sherrod  provided a solid rhythmic foundation for Bingham and guitarist Evan Weatherford to weave a rough but colourful cloth of hard guitars that was more rock than roots, although several songs were delivered in a subtler context.

The first two encores showed that Ryan Bingham is a very capable solo performer with his versions of Hallelujah and The Weary Kind, an obvious audience favourite which wasn't on the original set list and had not been included in the set on his last visit. The final encore song was a duel between both guitarists using glass slides for a climaxing and mesmerizing Bread and Water that left the mixed age audience well satisfied with their night out. 

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photography by Ronnie Norton


Ed Romanoff & Band @ Whelans Oct 23rd 2012

With his debut album being one of the year’s best, it was interesting to see how Ed Romanoff would deliver his songs live. Although his first Dublin performance was sparsely attended, the show delivered and was engaging and entertaining. Romanoff proved to be a natural performer,  both of his songs and with his introductions. He has a charismatic warmth that immediately has the audience on his side, and you know that the next time he comes the audience will be bigger as the word spreads.

Unusually for a first visit Romanoff brought a full band with him. They brought much to the overall delivery of the songs, adding depth and texture and bolstering Romanoff's vocal prowess. For a man who only started writing songs in the last few years, he has a talent that many would envy. The band was led by guitarist John Putnam whose Telecaster leads lines were effective and engaging. Benjamin Champoux provided subtle percussion and Dublin based Kim Porcelli added much with her cello and backing vocals. For three numbers Romanoff brought up local singer Sharon Murphy, whom he had spotted busking on Grafton Street, and invited her to join him for the show.

The songs were mostly from his eponymous debut, including his take on the Hank Cochran/Harlan Howard classic I Fall To Pieces, which takes thefamiliar lyric to darker places. His own songs include his tale of being abandoned by a girlfriend in Ireland on July 4th (Breakfast For One on the 5th of July), his discovery that his Russian parents had adopted him and that on taking a DNA test he had discovered that he was 50% Irish and related to Niall of the Nine Hostages, or as he said "nine sausages" which brought laugher all round (St. Vincent de Paul). There was a humourous element to the evening even though most of the songs tend to hale from the darker side of life. 

Other songs included Potholes, Curveball and I Must Have Done Something Right. Two Yellow Roses was written, he told us, from the perspective of a guy who has lost everything. When You're Dreaming was written with his former flat mate Josh Ritter. Many of the other songs had been written with the album's producer Crit Harmon. All are good songs and well worth hearing. He closed the show with a solo acoustic rendition of Sacred Wreck which showed that even without his worthy band, Ed Romanoff can put across a song with feeling. One new song was titled I'm A little Less Broken Now and was inspired by a comment of a colleague who had gone through surgery. When he went to see her he was afraid to give her a hug in case it would hurt her and she said that she was ‘a  little less broken’.

Romanoff will be back soon, as he felt very much at home here. Make sure you get along next time as it is a powerful, yet enjoyable evening out.

Review by Stephen Averill. Photography by Ronnie Norton



Justin Townes Earle @ Whelans - Wed. 5th September 2012

Tall, bespectacled and full of pent up energy,  Justin Townes Earle walks onto Whelans’ stag and asks how everyone’s doing. He begins his first song, Memphis In The Rain, from his current album Nothing’s Going To Change The Way You Feel about Me Now. From that album he also included the title song and Maria amongst others. In fact he plays songs from most of his albums but nothing I recognize from his debut. Earle says that when he made that album all he wanted to do was play honky-tonk music, but he soon realized that  what was called “country music” had nothing to do with what he liked or wanted to play. That when 12 bar had been taken out of country music and country  had lost its way. 12 bar and the blues are still fundamental to Earle’s music live.

His songs are rooted in restlessness and the travails of traveling. This was highlighted by titles like Movin’ On, One More Night in Brooklyn and Wanderin’. The latter he prefaced by an intro that explained that Woody Guthrie “talked the way we talk and wrote the way we talk” so his songs are straight forward and have a universality which is missing from most of the current crop of singer/songwriters. Earle’s songs are rooted in his own experience with They Killed John Henry, a tribute to his grandfather. Mama’s Eyes was dedicated to his mother “she’s my hero” he told us, saying  that she wore cut-off shorts and lived her live and that “no-one fucked me up, I’m just fucked up”. He is intense and insightful, prefacing his song with some well chosen words. He saved some of those for a section of the audience who sang along with the choruses of several song. He thanked them for the participation, but told them they sounded like a bunch of drunken pirates  and would they ever “fuck off”. Likewise he asked those who decided to clap along to stop as it was messing with his head. (and therefore his timing) — not that there wasn't humour and self-deprecation involved too in both song and in the introductions. He wasn't acting all high and mighty, rather he wanted to put on the show the way he wanted to without unnecessary interference.

He also played, as well as his own strong songs, a number of covers including one he had learned from his Dad called variously Cadillac Blues and Big Car Blues. This again emphasized his own effective rhythmic guitar style, which if there was any criticism of the evening, mentioned by some, was that the tempo and delivery was a little repetitive over a long set. But that was not a view held by the majority of  this younger than usual audience who took Earle to their collective hearts. He had just finished playing dates in the UK with  his band and hoped that he could return with them soon. That should be something special for both sides of the stage


Dave Alvin & The Guilty Ones @ Whelans 18th July 2012

It’s been too long since Dave Alvin came to town. A feeling that the audience in Whelans would heartily agree with. Coming after excellent gigs there by JD McPherson and The Dirt Daubers,  it was the third highlight in a two week period which would have made an excellent mini-festival triple bill. Tonight Alvin has his tightest combo in tow, a stripped down but highly efficient trio of drummer of Lisa Pankratz (the guiltiest of the Guilty Women), bassist Brad Fordham and second guitarist Chris Miller, all seasoned Austin-based musicians who deliver a master class on their individual instruments. All pay close attention to Alvin as he leads the band through an exhilerating set. 

He opened with BlackJack Davy and made the first of several dedications to friends who have passed away; in this case for promoter Larry Roddy who had driven Alvin around on his first trip to Ireland. Roddy’s heart was always in the music he  brought rather than in profit. Dave followed this with Hardin County Line that featured in the compelling TV series Justified. He quipped that “you guys couldn’t get tickets for Springsteen then?” making reference to the fact that the Boss was playing a sold out gig in Dublin that night. Throughout the gig Alvin made similar comment and seemed in fine spirits.

The set focused on the current Eleven Eleven album and mortality featured heavily on songs such as Johnny Ace Is Dead about the singer who accidently shot himself in the head on Christmas Day at a gig in Houston, Texas in 1954. He dedicated Black Rose Of Texas to Amy Farris, the violinist who toured with him as part of the Guilty Women band and who committed suicide. He also played Run Conejo Run for his best friend and running mate Chris Gaffney who died in 2008, who had been a part of Alvin’s band as well as a member of the Hacienda Brothers. This emotional song was to conjure up the spirit of his friend and was set to a taut Bo Diddley beat and featured some emotional guitar playing.

 A song played early on was Long White Cadillac, which he noted was recorded by Dwight Yoakam - “that’s how I could afford this hat” he joked referring to the cowboy hat that is now a regular fixture of his stage persona, along with the neckerchief and snap-button shirts he wears onstage. 

Guitar playing is what Dave Alvin is know for and tonight witnesses a stunning display that was never show-off but definitely did show off the talents of a unique and soulful player who is much underrated overall. In The Blasters, he noted, his brother Phil was the singer, the man with the monster voice while his role was to leap around the stage “dancing like a gazelle” with his guitar. While he may not be leaping around the stage too much these days his playing skills  have not diminished.

He has grown into a strong and expressive singer as well as being, from the start, an excellent writer. Alvin closed the show with what he said was “the fourth song he’d ever written down Marie, Marie - previously, he said, all the songs he had composed were in his head. This song, written way back, had found a new meaning for him as the name of the Spanish doctor who had helped keep his brother Phil alive after recent major health problems in Spain. Throughout  Alvin led the band through extended versions of  songs that not only highlighted his undoubted talent, but also those of his current band, allowing each their space to shine. This was particularly notable in an extended drum solos from Pankratz in Dry River. Dave talked about he and brother Phil’s love of the blues and the mentoring and friendship they had with Big Joe Turner, something that was the subject of the song Boss Of The Blues.

For the encore he played a soulful version of Every Night About This Time a song he had written for George Jones. Dave related how he has been preparing to go to the session when he got a call to say “it’s off”. The record label had decided the song was “too country for George Jones”. That’s record labels for you. But it wasn’t too anything other than right for this audience and rounded off an evening that many will remember for a long time to come. A musical tour-de-force? Guilty as charged.

Review by Stephen Rapid, photography by Ronnie Norton