Saturday, 19 August 2017

Miranda Lambert - Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham. Friday 18th August 2017

Six albums and twelve years into a commercial recording career may yet prove to be just the starter for Miranda Lambert. As the Texas dust settled on her ‘full’ UK stage debut, thoughts turned to how exciting the next decade, and the subsequent ones after that, can be for an artist at the pulse of contemporary country music. Of course, this is dependent on evolution and maximising the enormous potential of development at her fingertips. These range from establishing herself on an international platform to forming a body of work that adds a legacy impact to one of commercial success. She is in the midst of the first part of this and a Birmingham audience had an early opportunity to revel in very much the present of this next significant phase of her career.

Elements of this development are making smart moves, not always dictated by the bottom dollar. For instance, there was scepticism about staging her first UK main show in such a large venue. A re-configured Barclaycard Arena just about succeeded in providing a suitable setting, but from a personal perspective how much elevation could have been secured from staging it at the city’s Symphony Hall, Institute or Academy. The eventual turnout may likely to have been squeezed, but the pay off in raising the roof would have prevailed. First and foremost, Miranda Lambert is not a UK arena act in 2017. However, size of venue is not the only measure of an artist’s stature within an industry.

Perhaps the greatest compliment to pay Miranda Lambert is that the set list that accompanied her on this European excursion is merely the icing on a substantial back catalogue. Once again, from a personal perspective, there are at least a dozen of her recorded songs that are preferred to what was offered on stage. Prior research advised of this situation, but from a general viewpoint, it is hard to dispute the popular appeal of the songs chosen. Indeed one of the aims of this concert was to see which of the set list stood out to prove the eventual highlights.

For me there were four specific songs that created a lasting memory of their live airing. First up was ‘Ugly Lights’ off the new WEIGHT OF THESE WINGS album and one of the few tracks to get a brief introduction. The concept of this record with all its break up connotations was brought to stark life in the next three minutes of tearing away the layers of a heart. Earlier in the set, ‘All Kinds of Kinds’ had brought the arena to frenzied activity with its heartfelt sentiment and enjoyable interaction. This song has taken on a new lease of life since listening to its writer Don Henry play it at The Bluebird CafĂ© in Nashville last year. The other two songs to really stand out came in just ahead of the fiery finale of ‘White Liar’ and ‘Gunpowder and Lead’. ‘Little Red Wagon’ preceded these and its live version was a substantial upgrade on an album track that struggles to make an impact among the heavyweight offerings on PLATINUM. Also from that record and starring during this show was ‘Automatic’, which probably saw Miranda reach her optimum peak on the evening as she strolled around the stage belting out this nostalgia-fuelled classic.

Elsewhere the usual suspects went down a storm. ‘House That Built Me’ and ‘Tin Man’, the latter beginning a two-song encore segment, brought a tear to many an eye, while ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ probably maximised the audience reaction. ‘Pink Sunglasses’ emerges as a light hearted crowd  pleaser, disguising its more serious message. While professing not to being everyone’s cup of tea, the fun element ensures its tenure at least for the moment.

Away from the recorded content, Miranda and her strong eight-piece band celebrated the work of other artists on two occasions. By far the best of these was a rollicking version of Rodney Crowell’s ‘I Ain’t Living Long Like This’. This saw the band significantly raise their game and left a pondering thought that maybe an area for development could be bringing them more to the fore in future shows. There also could have been room for raising the profile of the keys and pedal steel, thus giving the constant guitar breaks a relief. In essence, there was a general feel to widen the scope of the country sound. The other cover posed as the end point with Miranda celebrating a recent enlightenment to the power of music courtesy of U2. ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ was the chosen piece led by Miranda handily joined at this stage by her supporting cast, both on and off the stage.

Part of Miranda’s on-stage team is independent recording vocalist Gwen Sebastian who was afforded a brief moment in the spotlight to share her new song ‘Cadillac’ with the audience. This came over as a strong piece sung with great panache and also revealed Miranda’s increasing prowess as a songwriter. Earlier in the evening had seen English duo Ward Thomas open the show and given the chance by their new label Sony to prosper on a bigger stage.

The magnitude of this big night for Miranda was not lost as she set about a first lone show, following last year’s C2C appearance, on the soil of a country that continues to give her serious love. She did admit to apprehensive nerves, but these failed to hinder any of the twenty-one songs served up. One aspect that she needs to grasp is the reserved nature of UK audiences. She is not the first and will not be the last to comment, but it is a prominent reality of the difference an entire ocean can make. However, she will be held to her promise to return.

Returning to the wider aspect of Miranda’s career and where next could it head. The first decade has yielded enormous success, give or take the odd bump, and this has been done with a loosening of the reins as a signed artist. Further development in this area will help fuel the legacy. She definitely seeks influence in the right areas and maybe this could lead to collaborations, extended duets, more solo writing adventures, legendary tributes or specific switches across the genre platforms. As a commercial performer, she has built up a considerable fan base and the test of  a true artist is to take them with you rather than being dictated by them.

At this moment, let’s just rejoice in the present and be grateful that Miranda Lambert has gravitated to an international platform. She remains my number one contemporary recording artist and it was a privilege to be in her presence (with a few thousand others) for a thankful, fabulous hour and a half. Hopefully in the future she can rise to number one in the live charts, with her Birmingham debut being a very high new entry. The thought of six albums being the mere aperitif is an exciting one and maybe the overseas tour of 2017 will be a pivotal moment. 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Hurray for the Riff Raff - The Cookie, Leicester. Monday 14th August 2017

Are we in a golden age of American protest music? Although far from year dot, November 2016 re-invigorated the re-set button and will surely be the catalyst for an eventual deluge of material to remove any doubt from the opening statement. This assertion grows rapidly with each touring American artist taking a European stage, an effect that is light years away from Shepherd’s Bush London 2003. Prior to recent events, including a significant one just two days previous to this show, Hurray for the Riff Raff had constructed their own ‘ode to resistance’, based on the many injustices afflicting minorities, particularly the plight of the Puerto Rican in America. This powerful album strategically titled THE NAVIGATOR is once again the centrepiece of an overseas trip for the band, this time mainly focussed on Scandinavia and a prestigious spot at the Green Man Festival in Wales.

British fans are being spoiled this year, with a vague count of this visit being number three of four planned in 2017. Only a couple of small shows have been scheduled within the shadow of the festival, but one of these was at The Cookie in Leicester. This was the band’s first visit to the English Midlands since last summer and one now with the new album completely bedded in. If any doubts lingered about the record being one of the hottest and most powerful releases of the year, then spending just over an hour in the company of Alynda Segarra and her four band members unequivocally removed them.

Empowered by her music and forever feisty, Alynda is a totally absorbing character on stage. Pouring everything into each song is a given, especially those when she ditches the guitar and throws enigmatic vocally inspired body movements into the mix. The first of these was three songs into the set when the performance was ignited by an exhilarated version of ‘Hungry Ghost’ from the new album. Almost an hour later, the main body of the set was concluded with the passionate anthem ‘Pa'lante’. The appetite for a live experience of listening to this song was whetted by the band’s South by South West performance being expertly recorded for digital share. However, this did not come close to the shivers generated from the alternative existence of standing literally two paces from it being belted out.

You should be getting the drift that this was a somewhat intimate gig in a venue doing its best to replicate a New Orleans summers day, in the midst of a typically British one. The cramped confines of this city centre cellar venue, plus the stage at the same level as the standing audience can go one of two ways. Engineering a good position was useful especially if your design was to get the most out of this show. With that intact, the band played their part via a scintillating performance right from the opening bars of ‘Life to Save’ to a rousing finale rendition of ‘Dancing in the Dark’ to send folks home singing and happy.

Alynda greeted the concluding number with an assertion of this being the only Boss she pays attention to. The other spoken contributions reflected the serious and impassioned approach that she takes to using her music as a voice for resistance. Opening the spoken part of the show with ‘we are Hurray for the Riff Raff, we are Americans and we come in peace’ sets the tone for a band that quite simply play modern day folk songs in a rock ‘n’ roll style.

As previously indicated, THE NAVIGATOR supplied the bulk of the song material. ‘Living in the City’ and ‘Rican Beach’ reciprocated their prominent album positions with similarly live epics, while ’Fourteen Floors’ was elevated (excuse the pun) by Alynda switching to the keys to deliver this song in a stripped back format. Outside the new album, ‘Lake of Fire’, ‘The Body Electric’ and ‘Good Time Blues’ featured, although specified tracks on the printed set list ‘Blue Ridge Mountain’ and ‘St. Roch Blues’ were either replaced or omitted. The latter was planned to join the Springsteen cover in the encore, but for some reason this part of the show was frustratingly curtailed.

However, this was just a mere mark on a performance that bristled with emotion, musical chemistry, and a lead protagonist emerging as a spokesperson for resistance through song. Hurray for the Riff Raff is riding a wave of sincere artistic credibility and taking an ever expanding band of admirers with them. The quirky environment of The Cookie in Leicester probably made more of an imprint on the audience than affecting what Hurray for the Riff Raff do on stage. Essentially, Alynda Segarra gave an absolute dominant performance and the musical world of many folks was enriched. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Rachel Harrington - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 8th August 2017

It was as if time had stood still, five years gone in the blink of an eye. Technically, it was longer as the 2012 tour saw Rachel Harrington in a very different guise when fronting her honky tonk band The Knockouts. This was more akin to the days where she toured often in a duo format, and it was these frequent tours, which effectively took their toll leading to an eventual lengthy hiatus. Now refreshed, and the guitar handled on a daily basis rather than locked away, Rachel has made tentative yet significant steps to returning to the fold. While bold on the surface, a decent run of dates thousands of miles from your home on the North West Pacific coast saw a reunion with many familiar faces that have supported her career with great dedication over the years.

Although not a stranger to playing venues in the West Midlands, remarkably this was Rachel’s first show at the Kitchen Garden in Birmingham, a setting perfectly suited for her mode of acoustic delivery. A dedicated bunch of folks gathered to witness her return to the area and it was a delightful experience to confirm that none of the craft, sincerity and confidence was missing. Maybe the ultimate step of re-convening the knack of penning original material has yet to be reached, but Rachel skilfully utilised a range of locker attributes to present a highly enjoyable evening of who she is from a musical perspective.

This is primarily the architect of three impressive solo album releases between 2007 and 2011, leaving a catalogue of songs that sounded fresh nearly a decade on. Rachel decided to make the first set almost entirely full of material from these records, including self-penned efforts such as ‘Goodbye Amsterdam’, ‘He Started Building My Mansion in Heaven’, ‘You’ll Do’ and ‘Shoeless Joe’. It was literally moments after stepping into the performance area before Rachel hit her stride, both pristinely delivering the songs, and providing warm, insightful and charming inter-song chat. Some stories were throwback, but the overall feel of the first half was that the show emerged as endearing to newbies as those who have been literally yards in front of Rachel performing for close on a decade. Perhaps the pick of these songs on the evening was ‘Spokane’ from the CELILO FALLS album.

The second half saw Rachel share a host of her favourite songs from other writers. This was probably a safe option in light of no new material and entirely reasonable when you think of the risk an artist is taking when making such a long trip in somewhat unusual circumstances. While the songs were fairly standard offerings – ‘Unknown Legend’, ‘If I Needed You’, ‘Dublin Blues’ and ‘It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’ for starters – Rachel does have the knack of knocking out a good cover, with the added bonus of explaining the choice entertainingly well. This led to the audience learning of close encounters with Guy Clark, confusing Young with Springsteen and getting an early feel for classic country music. Alternately, Rachel has not steered away from slotting the odd cover song in her records with ‘Ode to Billy Joe’, both making the CITY OF REFUGE album and tonight’s set list.

If the evening began with an air of Rachel Harrington familiarity, it certainly ended on one as well. Old time gospel favourite ‘I Don’t Want to Get Adjusted to This World’ has concluded many a Rachel Harrington show in the past, so why not a debut performance at Birmingham’s Kitchen Garden in 2017. This crowned a fabulous show that rolled back the years in an unassuming and assured way. Where/What next, for Rachel Harrington – the performing/recording artist - is probably best left for another day. The present is all about a renewal and a successful one at that. 

Friday, 4 August 2017

William the Conqueror - Proud Disturber of the Peace : Loose Music

Two eye-catching titles are a good start before any content of a record is revealed. Ruarri Joseph may be proud to disturb the peace, but those submerging themselves into the deep canyon of William the Conqueror’s debut album will not be too perturbed to have theirs disturbed. PROUD DISTURBER OF THE PEACE is the opening shot of a former signed folk-singer turned full on band unit and it unravels as a high impact release. It is quite easy to be caught up in industry mutterings especially when the product is still mainly kept under wraps. However, there is no denying that William the Conqueror have firmly delivered with this neatly packaged fully fledged record.

The back-story of bandleader Ruarri Joseph has been widely documented and in essence, it reveals an artist forever searching that moment of satisfied integrity. Where the William the Conqueror project leads him only time will tell, but there is a deep rooted appeal in a collection of tunes fluctuating between folk rock and its grittier indie cousin. Associations of Americana have been banded around, yet there is so much classic British distinction to the sound. This is from an artist who spent his formative years in both Scotland and New Zealand before eventually finding a secure base in Cornwall. The track ‘Manawatu’ offers a down under experience and eventually closes an album that tantalises those trying to nail the overall feel to the sound.

This follows a three pronged beginning where the rhythmic guitar beats of ‘In My Dreams’ and ‘Tend to the Thorns’, partially in Wedding Present mode, in addition to the profound chorus on ‘Did You Wrong’ take hold. Any notion of this railroading onto being a complete hardened rock album evaporates at this point as a more temperate mood takes hold. The intrinsically messaged ‘Pedestals’ and slow bluesy tones to ‘The Many Faces of a Good Truth’ make a stern stab at being the record’s highlights from a personal perspective. These are closely followed by a narrative piece in the latter stages titled ‘Cold Ontario’ complete with an ear catching fuzzy call and response segment.

The title track also appears in the second half (side two to those who will inevitably savour the vinyl), which, while changing the pace, is not quite the rouser that the word ‘disturber’ suggests. What does ignite the record is its perfectly measured pace, exemplified by the harmonica infused folk number ‘Sunny is the Style’ and the grooving piece ‘Mind Keeps Changing’.

Although eventual impact is high, there is a slow burning element to the record. Ultimately, the tracks achieve the required objective of getting under your skin, even to the extent of possessing anthem potential. Indeed, there are so many facets of the ten ten tracks to discover, that any review can only be a mere introduction. Whether you view this album as Americana or one of several stages of clear cut rock, the important thing is that it is one of the year’s most intriguing and relevant releases.

PROUD DISTURBER OF THE PEACE gets its release via Loose Music on the day that this review is published and William the Conqueror significantly move from being an industry murmur to one of significant recording artist. This album will be judged by a few and enjoyed by many. Falling into either camp is fine. 

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Joey Landreth - White House Unique Social Club, Ashington. Monday 24th July 2017

Can the grass be greener? A twist on this time tested analogy that can also apply to whether the gigs you regularly frequent are better attended elsewhere in the country. The answer was clearly yes on a Monday night in Ashington where many folks can quite legitimately state that ‘they were there the night Joey Landreth came to town’. The White House Unique Social Club is located in this old Northumberland colliery town twenty miles north of Newcastle. It is not your usual domain of an award winning Canadian folk rock artist, who together with his brother had brought the delectable sibling harmonies to a wider world via the band The Bros. Landreth. Yet on this latest trip to the UK, during a period of Joey branching out on his own, circumstance and fate led to the sold out sticker being plastered right across the gig poster.

For a bit more context, the event was organised by Ashington Town Council as part of its commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the first mineshaft being sunk in the area. The individual behind the project also happens to be a massive music fan and a series of connections led him to discover that Joey Landreth was struggling to get a gig in the North East. Well one and one generally makes two, but in this instance add a couple of noughts in light of the popularity of the eventual show. This was also no social event, as the packed room offered the utmost courtesy to both Joey and the opening act Paul Liddle. Indications were that a few folks had travelled (though not as far as two refugees from the nearby SummerTyne Festival and over two hundred miles from home), but this evening was very much owned by the people of Ashington and they put on a grand display.

Having enjoyed a Bros. Landreth show around twelve months ago to the extent that it made the Top 20 Favourite Gigs of the Year, there was always the danger that Joey with just his guitar minus brother and band would be a tough act to follow. If you were comparing like with like that would have been the case, but putting the performance in its own context was the best way to establish the merit.

Joey began the show armed with the acoustic guitar before switching to the electric version around midway into a set that probably spanned an hour and a quarter. While there were many references to The Bros. Landreth including versions of fine songs like ‘Firecracker’ and ‘Let it Lie’, little was shared about Joey’s move to pursue a solo challenge. He did refer to a previous UK tour earlier in the year, so these shores must be high on the list of markets he wants to focus on. To support his new venture, Joey has released a seven track mini album titled WHISKEY. The lead and title track off this record was held back until the pre-encore song, but when finally heard live ‘Whiskey’ was the standout moment of the original material.

Maybe this moment was just eclipsed as the eventual standout by a beautifully delivered version of the Leonard Cohen classic ‘Bird on a Wire’ as a tribute to his late grandfather. Sometimes it can be a touch disrespectful favouring a songwriter’s cover choice to their original material, but this had so much punchy meaning and sincerity, I’m sure the praise is understood.

Away from the classy vocals, fine guitar playing and serious song selection, Joey displayed a relaxed demeanour. This included a couple of ‘what’s said at the gig stays at the gig’ stories along with simple irreverent chat that continued to hold the undivided attention of an appreciative audience.

It may just have been a one off but Ashington gave Joey Landreth a night he’ll never forget. Now the next time a Monday evening gig struggles to sell, you can always say Northumberland did it – once.

SummerTyne Americana Festival (Overview) - Sage Gateshead. Friday 21st July to Sunday 23rd July 2017

Is it a festival or a collection of gigs? No doubt, a strange question for many SummerTyne Americana devotees, but one pondered several times across the weekend of a first visit to this jewel of the North East. There are similarities with the likeminded Southern Fried Festival in Perth, but there is more of a compartmentalised feel to SummerTyne. While the outdoor Jumping Hot Club stage and the indoor concourse stage in the Sage’s ground floor foyer are integral parts of the event, the lifeblood and true pull are the array of independent ticketed events that are liberally strewn across the transformed venue.

An early decision to maximise the paid offering via purchasing tickets for six shows meant that there was always going to be a chance of the other two performing areas becoming a peripheral attraction. This proved the case after an initial sampling of the SummerTyne experience, with essentially the outdoor location being at the mercy of the weather and the concourse sonically hampered by its temporary transfer into a venue. Yet there were still plenty of golden moments to enjoy, if perhaps not to the intensity of the gigs.

Massy Ferguson
With the Gateshead weather set fair for the Friday afternoon, the Jumping Hot Club stage proved a popular place for both locals and those travelling from further afield to sample music with a distinct North East roots. The remit of the Sage for this opening segment of the festival is plain to see and highly commendable. The staging of SummerTyne surely has to fight its corner with the wider local arts scene and embracing the locality is an essential selling point. Most of the local acts on Friday afternoon had a least part of their sets seen, although you had to arrive early to get one of the intense watching seats. Alternatively, the amphitheatre setting of this location via the grassy terracing made viewing accessible. The pick of the local artists was a band called Buffalo Skinners, but all slated acts played a key role in getting the show under way.

As the weekend proceeded, the outdoor stage has to compete with the concourse stage for the afternoon’s free entertainment. Obviously, the weather can be an important factor with options on the table as we were to find out on Sunday. However, with tickets to see the Angaleena Presley show on Saturday afternoon only a couple of artists were seen outside. These included Fargo Railroad Company, following up their Maverick Festival set with a hearty mash of Southern Rock, and the impressive Amythyst Kiah putting an old time roots spin on her Appalachian inspired music.

Robert Vincent
While general viewing of bands on the outdoor stage was fairly limited, there was another opportunity to see Robert Vincent play a full band set on Sunday and further solidify the progress being made. An increasingly similar variety of excellent songs was played from his two albums, just prior to the inclement weather setting in. With little sign of it abating, a couple of brief sorties outside after the afternoon paid show provided a short but wet sample of High Plains Jamboree and the Savoy Family Cajun  Band. Fair play to the hearty souls who braved the rain to embrace both bands in the entirety, but generally the pull of drier entertainment prevailed.

For the whole of Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the concourse stage was commissioned by the AMA UK to give an opportunity for some of its member artists to play a festival show. The audience was a mix of seated and standing folks watching intensely and a sizeable chunk passing through. As previously indicated, the band sound did struggle with the environment, but all witnessed artists embraced the opportunity. The pick of these was definitely Massy Ferguson, who probably had the biggest sound of the artists scheduled, but stuck to the task of showing why they are such a highly rated band. A bonus from the performance was UK artist Danni Nicholls joining the band on stage to sing the Zoe Muth part on ‘The Hard Way’. Not a bad substitute!

Jim Lauderdale, Chuck Prophet, Ashley Campbell, Amythyst Kiah
Two events that went down really well on the concourse stage were at the bookends of the festival. Just before the ticketed shows began on Friday, young multi-piece soul combo Stax Academy Revue wowed early Sage arrivals with a stellar take on the endless supply of classics that flowed out of a small Memphis studio in the sixties. This act also had a supreme support slot for Stax legend William Bell on the following evening in the Sage main hall and won over many fans during their weekend stay in Gateshead. Likewise, High Plains Jamboree had a successful SummerTyne and was granted a late Sunday night slot on the concourse stage, which gave folks an alternative to the ticketed events. The bonus was being able to catch the last half hour after the Chuck Prophet show finished and this traditional country outfit, led by Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay, duly rounded off the weekend in fine style.

High Plains Jamboree
For the record, and recorded in greater detail elsewhere, the six ticketed shows seen began on Friday evening with Merle Haggard's Strangers and Ashley Campbell just edging out The Shires. Marlon Williams played the only late night paid show of the weekend and this was not to be missed. The two afternoon show pairings of Angaleena Presley and Danni Nicholls on Saturday plus Jo Harman and LisaMills on Sunday both beat off the competition from further free stuff. Where tempting choices were available, Jim Lauderdale and Sam Outlaw won over William Bell on genre preference, while the power of Chuck Prophet was never going to be really challenged by the grace of Beth Nielsen Chapman as the festival closer.

However, there was one impromptu event that proved the pick of the free presentation. It was hastily announced and posted around the Sage that on Saturday evening Jim Lauderdale would host a songwriters in the round show in Hall 2 after his show. Therefore, plenty of dedicated diehards queued up to see Jim joined by Chuck Prophet, Ashley Campbell and Amyhtyst Kiah each perform a quartet of acoustic songs that took us well into Sunday morning. Following a general theme of relationships, each songwriter took the topic in a different direction especially Amythyst with some deep rooted offerings and Chuck, as you would expect, heading deep into left field.

As the dust settled on a successful first trip to SummerTyne, thoughts turned to maybe another visit in the future. The festival appears fairly established with its ten plus years existence, but no doubt will always have to fight its corner from a funding point of view, especially with little sign of heavy corporate backing. It doesn’t take too much digging to understand what the event means to the dedicated Americana community of the North East and from a distance, it is essential that it be preserved. 

Just returning to the opening question, and perhaps a personal emphasis on the six gigs did make this festival a little different. Maybe like the term ‘Americana’, a festival can take whatever form you want it to be. The proof is in the enjoyment of the event and SummerTyne delivered wholeheartedly on that front. 

Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express + Curse of Lono - SummerTyne Americana Festival, Sage 2, Gateshead. Sunday 23rd July 2017

2017 is turning out to be just as big a year for Chuck Prophet as 2016 was a bad one for rock ‘n’ roll. Putting corny associations aside for a moment, Chuck is currently finding renewed love in the UK for his music and in return, he has gifted his fans an excellent album in BOBBY FULLER DIED FOR YOUR SINS. This Sunday evening headline set in Sage 2 at SummerTyne exploded into a rock ‘n’ roll fantasia with the full Mission Express band firing on all cylinders. This was the band’s opening night of a second run of UK dates this year. It eventually rolled out as a two-hour performance, which ran very close to their gig of the year candidate in Nottingham at the back end of the winter.

Opening with the title track from the latest album, the band quickly seamlessly wove the new material into the set. Songs like ‘Bad Year for Rock ‘n’ Roll’, ‘Jesus was a Social Drinker’, and ‘We Got Up and Played’ are fast becoming stage favourites and that is a credit to Chuck with his pretty awesome back catalogue. A full Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express show is an intoxicating experience especially when the lead protagonist is in imperious form. ‘Temple Beautiful’, ‘You Did’ and the closing pre-encore anthem ‘Willie Mays is Up At Bat’ quite rightly form the pinnacle of the show from many perspectives, yet this wouldn’t be possible without Chuck’s trusted team of players – now the longest stable Mission Express line up.

Led by bandleader Stephanie Finch on keys plus much more, the extended trio of James DePrato (lead guitar), Kevin White (bass) and Vicente Rodriguez (drums) each played an highly charged role to fuel the adrenalin. The whole band feel probably peaked on the never ending ‘Summertime Thing’, while Stephanie eased into a duet role for ‘In the Mausoleum’ from the new album and a cover of ‘Amanda Ruth’ from Austin country punk band Rank and File.

There are times when you feel the term ‘Americana’ was designed with Chuck Prophet in mind. Basically, just an old punk sliding into alt-country rock, with a fascinating articulate view on the world, mirrored in his writing. Barely twenty-four hours earlier, and literally straight off the plane, Chuck had participated in a songwriter’s session. The highlight from his four track selection for that show was translated into the full band format a day later with ‘The Left Hand and the Right Hand’ still being preluded by the story of two infamous and notorious San Francisco brothers.

It was clear Chuck did not want this show to end and was only prevented from joining the audience by the lack of steps from the raised stage. He was clearly in the mood for more impromptu stuff and subsided to calls for a cover of ‘Shake Some Action’ by the Flaming Groovies. This eventually closed the show, but not before one final story of a wide eyed fifteen year old falling in love with his life’s destination at a gig by the aforementioned band.

The opening act for this Sage 2 finale at the SummerTyne Americana Festival, and also on Chuck’s other dates, was UK band Curse of Lono. This five piece outfit are beginning to make prominent inroads with their style of darkened alt-rock music, illuminated by some fine harmony vocal parts and a soundtrack that excites in its diversity. They represent the good side of Americana elasticity and some stage reference to college rock also helped define their presence. A connotation of The Doors meet Dawes sprang to mind during their forty-minute set, which peaked with ‘Don’t Look Down’, a song chosen for inclusion on the US TV series Kingdom. Bandleader Felix Bechtolsheimer gleefully shared that the cheque had cleared before launching into this final number.

Like so much of this year’s SummerTyne Festival, the pairing here was spot on. Probably to a similar extent of the Beth Nielsen Chapman and Callaghan gig that went head to head with this in the Sage 1 finale. The choice was stark in style and Chuck Prophet ensured those who wanted their festival to end in a frenzied haze had their desires fulfilled.