Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Eilen Jewell: UK Tour

It has been some time since I reviewed a gig here at Marsh Towers. Long-term readers may recall I used to review everything but time is very much against me these days.

It's not that I don't go to as many gigs as I used to; quite the opposite, in fact. So far this year I have seen virtually everyone from Bananarama to The Rolling Stones.

Some gigs stay with me longer than others and it turns out my most recent outing is still very much on my mind more than a week later.

I only became aware of the unique music of Eilen Jewell at the start of 2017, via an email from Propermusic (an exceptional site) highlighting new releases. Describing Boundary County as 'a stunning collection about trying to get along in a world gone wrong' proved to be an intriguing hook and after my initial investigations I quickly caught up with the rest of Eilen's back catalogue.

Fast forward to April 2018 and the excitement generated by news of a UK tour, quickly tempered by the pulling of the proposed Newcastle date (the closest one to me). Fortunately, two other dates proved to be convenient to my calendar and I swiftly booked tickets for Manchester (2 August) and London (6 August). Both shows eventually sold out so I was pleased I took the opportunity to obtain tickets when I did.

On both occasions I was able to find - and hold - a spot at the very edge of the stage. Close enough to feel the music.

The upstairs room at Gullivers in Manchester was the first of my two venues. I was the first person through the door and felt the temperature rise dramatically as the small room filled up. Sweat was pouring off everyone; dignity would have flown out of the window, had there been one.

Incidentally, the second person to arrive had left work early and dashed all the way from York, without a ticket, to try and catch the show. He soon obtained as ticket and we had an excellent pre-show discussion, comparing opinions on a whole range of other acts.

There was no support act and no announcements; the show swung into action as soon as Jerry Miller took to the stage and hit the strings to start the evening with It's Your Voodoo Working, which is the first track from Down Hearted Blues. It's a great opener, ably setting the scene for the rest of the evening. The band is tight; very tight. Alongside Jerry on guitar there is Jason Beek on drums and Shawn Supra on upright bass. Eilen's voice is even more impressive live than on record. It is distinctive and never fails to bring alive the story of each song, riding the waves of the alternating genres: Country, Americana, Blues, Rockabilly.

The second song - Too Hot to Sleep - was particularly appropriate under the sultry circumstances, although sleep, although sleep was hardly on the evening's agenda.

The set list included Heartache Boulevard, Reckless ('honky tonk, waltz, truck driving, loving; it’s all one and the same, right? Four birds with one stone...), You Wanna Give Me A Lift (by Loretta Lynn, who 'had more songs banned from country music radio than any other artist'),  Rich Man’s World (complete with Jerry's mid-song train licks; 'we're starting off with the oldies tonight…we’re gonna play oldies in the middle and at the end, too') Santa Fe (a rare drop in tempo in an otherwise bullet-paced set) Rio Grande, Don’t Leave Poor Me, You Gonna Miss Me, Another Night To Cry, You’ll Be Mine, Where They Never Say Your Name, Sea of Tears and Sweet Rose.

Inevitably, the evening began to draw to a close. Ellen called out for requests. For most bands, this would normally lead to a few safe bets they were going to do anyway but I can confirm there was a great diversity in the requests both in Manchester and in London. At the former we had High Shelf Booze,  I Remember You, Queen of the Minor Key, Down Hearted Blues, Nothing in Rambling and You Know My Love. The last few songs saw Jason leave his drums and come to the front, sporting a magnificent washboard, which he was definitely not afraid to use.

This was their first time in Manchester but they promised to return. 'Next time we come we’ll do a Smiths cover in the washboard,' quipped Eilen, 'the one band that’s even more cheerful than we are.'

Let's hope they do indeed return to Manchester, having first taken in a night in the North East, to plug the unfortunate gap created this time around.

The Lexington, on Pentonville Road, was the venue for the second gig, just four days later. I had been there once before, to see Woody Woodmansey's Holy Holy back in 2014. The upstairs room is a little bigger than the one at Gullivers and even though London was several degrees hotter than Manchester had been the venue had more to offer in terms of air conditioning.

This time there was support, in the form of Michele Stodart, who delivered an intense set of personal songs that impressed me very much. In fact I had enjoyed a sneak preview earlier, as I had arrived early enough to catch the sound check.
This gig was about 10 minutes longer than the Manchester one, which allowed a few more songs.  Some of the songs on the set list were the same, but by no means all. This time we had Dusty Boxcar Wall, In the End, Back to Dallas, Rain Roll In plus an encore of Songbird (played by Eilen, alone on the stage, for the personal song she wrote about her daughter, Mavis) before finishing with I Remember You.

Yes, we'll remember you, too! Your music and delivery made the audience sing, dance, cry and laugh. If that's not 'trying to get along in a world gone wrong' the I don't know what is.

Anyone unfamiliar with the music of Eilen Jewell and her band can start to catch up by visiting their
official website and YouTube channel.

Galleries from the two shows can he found here:

Gullivers, Manchester

The Lexington, London

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