Saturday, 21 January 2017

Margo Price - The Bullingdon, Oxford. Friday 20th January 2017

“She said she beat her boyfriend up while high on crack cocaine.’ Ok Margo we get the message that life was tough on a brief visit inside the penal system. However keep writing songs as well as ‘Weekender’, deliver them as impassioned as you did in Oxford last night and the book of legacy will write itself. By now you may have guessed that the aforementioned track from Margo Price’s blockbuster debut album MIDWEST FARMER’S DAUGHTER was the standout piece from this Bullingdon show, but there so much more as the evening hurtled along with a carriage full of sincere originals and scintillating covers.

This latest UK tour may be the watershed for Margo if the exponential growth of her live fan base continues to grow, with venues that hosted her in August and now January rendered obsolete. If so, it was a massive privilege to catch the full band in The Exchange Bristol and The Bullingdon Oxford. Each gig had a different complexion, but the sum was explicit in its similarity.

One acute observation from comparing gigs is the extent that Margo raises the intensity of her song delivery when she ditches the guitar. In Bristol a hand injury forced her to work the microphone for the entire gig which was one of the redeeming features. In Oxford the mode was near 50-50 but it was noticeable how she moved onto another level with just the mic. This was exemplified in the plethora of memorable classic cuts the band covered and most poignantly in the pre-encore killer version of ‘Hurtin’ (on the Bottle)’. This may be the last time she jumps into the audience without a security person in sight. Oh the joys of a small venue.

Upon reflection, the band performance was seemingly up from the Bristol show. This may be just the cloudiness of time or the jaw dropping skills just recently seen, primarily from Jamie Davies on lead guitar. This evening the guys started as a four piece in the usual array of lead, bass, drums and pedal steel before frequently morphing into a five piece when Margo’s husband Jeremy Ivey joined the fray with harmonica input and taking over acoustic when Margo sang unaided. In fact Jeremy doubled up as the early opener for this curfew gig and performed a series of the clear cut – straight down the middle country songs that we enjoy. These were often from the time worn angles of travel and self-perception with Margo joining him to vocally duet on one and play on an instrumental duet.

On the topic of country music, which need not be referenced really, the covers called in at the greats ranging from the obvious – ‘Jolene’, the not so - Merle Haggard’s ‘Red Bandana’, a set regular Rodney Crowell’s ‘Aint Living Long Like This’ and an alternative take on Johnny Cash in ‘Big River’. The latter a refreshing change to the over covered ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. Away from country, and in celebration of her birthday the day before, Margo brought the house down with a stunning version of Janis Joplin’s ‘Mercedes Benz’. For many this could understandably have been the covers highlight, but for me the encore version of ‘Me and Bobby McGee, stood out. The pride in Margo’s vocals grew immensely, starting from the introduction of recollecting the duet of this she sang with Kris Kristofferson at the Newport Folk Festival.

Maybe over time, the covers in Margo’s set will diminish especially as the original material grows, which hopefully shouldn’t be too long. For this show we had a single new song previewed under the title ‘Told Me With Your Eyes’. This was a good news case of more of the same. The only other original not on the album was ‘Paper Cowboy’, a song later remembered from the Bristol gig. This song was enthusiastically introduced and forms into a storming country honky tonk stomper.

As you would expect, the album was strongly represented with maybe the saddest omission being ‘Since You Put Me Down’. On the upside ‘Hands of Time’ continues to flourish as one of the songs that shaped 2016 and ‘Tennessee Song’ proved to be a crowd favourite. ‘Desperate and Depressed’ was introduced as an ode to a bad tour experience while it doesn’t take too many listens to the lyrics of ‘This Town Gets Around’ to get the drift. ‘Four Years of Chances’ was nestled in the encore without any possible link to Inauguration Day. The remaining song opened the set and ‘About to Find Out’ once again sees Margo at her cutting and explicit lyrical best in the line ‘but you wouldn’t know class if it bit you in the ass.'

The last statement may be a touch harsh if you apply it to folks that don’t get Margo Price, but she is an absolute class country music act with the effortless panache to pile so much into her songs and ultimate performance. What makes Margo Price special is not what she possesses but the way she utilises every inch of her gift. I’m pretty sure a sell-out Bullingdon crowd will concur with this and give thanks to the Empty Rooms Promotion team for snapping up Margo before the bigger stage looms. Live music is far more connective and meaningful in the right environment. 

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