Saturday, 7 February 2015

Richard Dawson / Vibracathedral Orchestra / Phil Tyler - Live at The Star & Shadow, Newcastle [7th February 2015]

[2015.02.07] Tom Hollingworth, for NE:MM Online Magazine.

Having launched his incredible album, Nothing Important, at the Star & Shadow in the winter of last year, Richard Dawson returns tonight to play the first gig of his UK Tour once again on this homely stage.

    The two supporting acts shine through the evening’s sky like the sun and moon crossing Dawson’s soul. First on, Phil Tyler stands steady and loyal as he retells melodies from both sides of the Atlantic using his banjo for divination. As the opening instrumental No Wealth But Life draws focus from the spirited audience, many new eyes and ears fill into the room until it is packed full. Tyler’s performances are always modest, with his presence on stage almost bashful. This allows the instrumentals and songs to be witnessed and understood apart from the person playing them. By seeing such devotion, it is important to recognise Tyler as not just an excellent and skilled musician, but as someone committed to his passions for their own virtue.

    As a styrofoam head presented at the front of the stage is adorned with headphones, and an A4 photocopy picture of Lou Reed is casually taped to the back curtain, the signs are set that Vibracathedral Orchestra’s performance will be abrasive, but boy, few were prepared! From a stage littered with instruments, The Leeds quartet took few moments to arrive at a torrent of sound which they then joyously improvised around and within for close to an hour. Phil Tyler’s considered approach is now balanced by this uncertainty and wilderness. Childhood curiosity was ever present in their eyes as each band-mate explored different instruments; from guitars, to synths, to percussion, to recorders. A fake severed hand lay on the floor throughout but was not utilised. Though their faces were lined with a million stories, these men were growing younger as they played. Though some members of the audience were defeated by the power of the sound, this unapologetic tirade was a strangely fitting purifier for the ears about to listen to tonight's headliner.  

    With ale gleaming in his cheeks, Richard Dawson takes merriment in being a few minutes early onto the stage and enjoys joking with many characters in the crowd. Though clearly excited by this christening date in his calendar, friendly support in the audience is palpable and Dawson rides the waves with grace. As the opening motif to Man Has Been Struck Down By Hands Unseen is recognised, excitement curls in the faces watching and whatever has lead up to this moment has passed - the night now belongs to this music.
    Perhaps because of the heat in the room, or exhaustion, our singer’s voice is more strained than usual, with some of the falsetto notes falling into breath. This huskier and angular quality in his vocals however helped make tonight’s version of The Vile Stuff as violent a march as it has ever been. The fire in this performance was lapped up as one of the evening’s highlights, with the crowd singing favourite lines loudly, and laughing with its humour.

    The setlist was a rich tribute to his album The Magic Bridge, filled predominantly with songs from that record with a few inclusions from the two following albums.
    When Dawson removed his jumper for the final portion of his set to reveal a Thelonious Monk T-shirt, there was something wonderfully childlike about how blushing he was of this item of clothing. Though depicting one of his heroes, he indicated it was an arbitrary clothing decision. Maybe so… 

    A plethora of surprises made the denouement anything but formal. From an improvised verse of song playfully mocking his idiosyncrasies, to performing lines of dialogue from the Pacino/De Niro movie Heat, to putting the guitar into standard tuning! and then fumbling his way through Roy Orbison’s In Dreams. To finish he resurrected I Will Make It Up To You from his 2007 album, Sings Songs and Plays Guitar and the song’s bold romance capped the night perfectly.

    As goodbyes are said, Dawson gives thanks to The Star and Shadow. Though the rooms now full of life and history are sadly soon to be relinquished, the community that built such a vibrant place, as our troubadour correctly identifies, will start a new lease of life in their next settlement. Long may they live!

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