On Wednesday the 21st of September Josh T. Pearson came back to Nottingham. Since his visit here back in March his critical star has been in ascendance with all kinds of best newcomer awards and literally inches and inches of press and critique. Well here’s another few to add to the list.
Given that he is still touring ‘The Last of the Country Gentlemen’ record it would be wrong to expect anything different set wise. Whilst there has been a recent release of his Union Chapel show (‘The King is Dead’ on limited edition vinyl) the only new songs have been some covers that occasionally show up on YouTube. He confesses during the gig that he doesn’t really practise much any more because he’s played the songs so often over the last year.
The thing that seems so incongruous about him is that whilst on record and also in full flight on stage he is an utterly mesmerizing performer who elicits silence from his audience and plays some of the most poignant and emotive songs I have ever heard, the interludes and preamble to these are occasional slapstick and some of the dirtiest jokes you could imagine.
Despite critical success and what appears to be the acquisition of a merch’ guy, he still carries his own guitar. His arrival on stage see’s him plugging in, unwinding cords, banging his head on the mic (three times, surely at least one for effect), chewing his nails and generally procrastinating in a fascinating way before trying out a new song called ‘Tuning’ (I think I’ve heard this on a few Grateful Dead bootlegs).
The first song of the set seems to consistently be ‘Rivers of Babylon’ (Psalm 127, cooked in the Leadbelly style rather than the disco manner) which segues into ‘Sweetheart, I ain’t your Christ’. It’s a great opener and the audience drops to a whisper as he picks his way through the two songs. Since the Bodega gig the audience seems to have changed a little. Generally a bit older, and more attracted to this type of catharsis. There are a couple of yelps and a few tears and snifflings near me within the first few bars of ‘Sweetheart’.
He interacts well with the audience and at the end of the first song explains his happiness to at last be playing in comedy club. As about 80% of the audience confess to having seen him before he bides his time with the jokes apparently worried that we would have heard them before.
After more banter and nail chewing the next song is ‘Woman, when I raise Hell’ which segues into ‘Sorry with a Song’. The joins are seemless and the skill of his playing is astounding. All picked, strummed, beaten and hammered out of an acoustic guitar he seems to feel just how far to push the instrument and the PA, also walking too & fro from the mic to add effect to the changing passages in the songs.
The songs end with the stamp of a cowboy boot and everyone breathes again. His jokes covered only few broad topics, Hillbilly love lives, the French (jokes which he transposes to be about the English when in France) and musicians (well, drummers and singers) mainly tonight. I would give some examples but as there’s a chance some of my family might run across this, I’ll hold back.
The next song is ‘Country Dumb’ and this is followed by ‘Singer to the Crowd’ (which he says he stole from a french man). And that’s it, six songs in about an hour & half. A completely engrossing performance from six-foot something Texan with a big crucifix and a bigger beard. He seems happy despite confessing that his last three years of sobriety have been the worst of life. I hope he takes some comfort in the obvious pleasure he gives his audience. Maybe we are just a vicarious bunch of emotional vampires but it’s worth it to find a real artist who is doing it for the art.
As he has a healthy disregard for the commercial side of the music industry, I’m hopeful he won’t mind me posting this. Here are the first three songs from the show including the lenghthy silence before he started the first song. As bootlegs go it’s a B- audience recording but it does give an unedited version of an evening with Josh T. Pearson. Just a shame iPhone batteries don’t hold out through a full show. If any one has issues with this, please say so.
As mentioned above he has also released a live limited edition vinyl of his appearance at the Union Chapel in London. I don’t know if this has been officially filmed but these are hanging around on You Tube and are worth seeing.
You might also want to have a look at the great Daytrotter website which has a session from Josh. Have a look here for this. There are lots of other excellent sessions including J Mascis.