Thursday, 23 April 2015

Sonia Leigh + Sasha McVeigh - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham Wednesday 22nd April 2015

‘Mind the Gap’ was the tour headline with its connotations spanning style, sound and the Atlantic divide. However the evening was all about two fiercely independent artists bridging the gap between the signed and the unsigned world, whilst being totally united in a determined drive to plough through their own vision of music. This was life at the epicentre of the twenty-first century music model, spiced by crowd funding, social media, digital sharing and reaching out to connect with the fans. Rocking it all the way from Georgia, USA was the dynamic Sonia Leigh, being guided through these isles with a little help from the polished tones of Hereford-based UK singer-songwriter Sasha McVeigh.

This concluding date of their short, but action packed, tour anchored in the Birmingham suburb of Kings Heath and an enthusiastic audience gave this brief liaison a fitting farewell. In line with other shows on the tour, a couple of local artists briefly opened before Sonia and Sasha split the standard 90 minute headline portion into a pair of roughly even sets, each showcasing their respective and slightly contrasting careers to date. Perhaps aligned to this being the show closest to Sasha’s home town and the fact that Sonia needed to make a speedy exit to return to London, it was a case of the US first followed by the UK, although we all secretly knew the night wouldn’t end before some form of onstage collaboration.

This was the second time a Sasha McVeigh live performance was witnessed after she supported Lindsay Ell in the city around a month ago. The development between the two shows was the switch from solo acoustic to full band which included a three-piece combo of drums, bass and lead guitar. The three guys in the band also did the honours splendidly for both artists. Sasha is rapidly heading towards her debut album release in June and it was interesting to listen to a number of familiar songs in the new format. Two such numbers bookended her slot as she opened with ‘No Strings Attached’ and closed with a song, popularised by a live version on You Tube, called ’Mr Brown Eyes’. Sharing her passion, inspiration and dreams via affable audience banter and introspective song writing is a therapeutic outlet for Sasha and she disguises little pride in symbolising her song ‘Time of My Life’. The stand out songs from her set included ‘Someone to Break My Heart’ and ‘Crooked Road’, the latter being part of the ubiquitous section where acoustic ruled the roost again.

During this segment, Sasha delivered a superb version of ‘Jolene’. While on the surface covering such a popular and well-loved song is safe ground, it does leave a critical door open for wondering - do we as audiences need another one?. Having passed the critic test on this occasion, a medley of Zac Brown covers is not my preferred method of listening to fine songs and she did much better last month with an entertaining full version of ‘Chicken Fried’. First and foremost, Sasha is a song writer of unlimited potential and possesses a smart eye for maximising her appeal. It will be interesting to watch how the career of this talented artist evolves and in what direction it veers before ultimately settling.

In contrast to Sasha being technically at the outset of her recording career, Sonia Leigh is going through a period re-establishment after high level association This included mixing with seriously popular US artists, label contracts and the enviable status of co-writing such fantastic Zac Brown tracks as ‘Sweet Annie’ and ‘Goodbye in Her Eyes’. Without resorting to versions of these songs, Sonia spread her set right from the first single dating back to 2011 in ‘My Name is Money’ through to the current release of ‘Put it in Your Pocket’. Also with an eye to the future, Sonia introduced the sassy number ‘Booty Call’ with an intention to pursue a US issue of it, alongside a humorous invitation for anyone offended to leave.

Of course no one did leave as they were witnessing a high calibre charismatic performer who has made the most profound effect on me as any live act in the first four months of 2015. Armed with the most authentic of achingly resonant bruised vocals and possessing the raw emotion of post-punk new wave rock n’ roll, Sonia Leigh kicked ass for three quarters of an hour. Whether hitting the full throttle or powering into something slower but still intense, this dark and diminutive figure with the most delectable southern twang owned the stage with utmost authority. The itchy feet of genre restriction guides the style of Sonia, but it has to be said that the performance of ‘Bar’ was dripping in pure 24 carat country gold.

With all fairness to Sasha, following that performance was going to be a tough ask in these quarters, but she rose to the challenge in her own style. To conclude the evening, the gap was well and truly closed when Sonia bounded back onto the stage to deliver a duet version of ‘Summer of ‘69’ which brought the best out of all five core performers. ‘Mind the Gap’ as a concept tour may have ended, but a golden road lies ahead for Sasha McVeigh if she maintains her current trajectory of appreciation. Finally, can we please have more Sonia Leigh!

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