Sunday, 10 November 2019

GIG REVIEW: The Delines - St.John the Evangelist, Oxford. Saturday 9th November 2019

Three assertions from this evening: Willy Vlautin and Amy Boone are exclusively compatible vehicles for each others art; the sedative-induced brass element gives the sound a more jazz than soulful feel, and The Delines are immense at magnifying a heavily curated album style in a live setting. Every column inch and word of mouth praise accrued in 2019 on the back of releasing THE IMPERIAL at the beginning of the year came to fruition at this sold out Oxford gig. Sheer class oozed from the stage as we were firmly reminded that it may be late in the calender year but pure polished gems can appear at any time.

On a personal front, The Delines experience began in June 2014 when they played the small room at the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham to around fifty people. This evening the audience must have been pushing to the unconfirmed four hundred mark such is the interest generated. Much of this has been the buzz around the new album, which acted as the main follow up to the 2014 debut COLFAX, although a lower profile release did appear in the interim period. This period did include UK shows where shamefully paths didn't cross, however the biggest unfortunate episode in the last five years was Amy Boone's accident, inevitably putting a huge dent in The Delines project. Happily she is now in a position to not only perform but tour overseas, with perhaps an added zest to make the most of a talent that is flourishing in this operation.

First and foremost, The Delines is the brainchild of Willy Vlautin; a main focus for him now the Richmond Fontaine days are in the past. An exceptional all round writer and guitar playing band leader, he seems to have found the perfect vocal foil in Amy Boone to unleash this latest bout of song writing. To a large extent, she acts as a narrator, albeit one with a beautifully exquisite voice, acting with acute precision to execute often explicitly driven story songs.

Going back to the soul debate, the music of The Delines definitely comes more from the head than the heart. There is a calculated side to how they operate leading to a tight knit delivery. From an audience perspective the sound element is far more projected through the keyboard and trumpet playing of key band member Cory Gray. The tempo and strings section is so deft, delicate and unobtrusive it lingers in the background absolutely extolling the virtue: less is more. Exactly like a top class official at a sports event being highly effective without taking centre stage. The focal point of any gig The Delines perform is going to be Amy Boone and the songs of Willy Vlautin that she wonderfully conveys to a blessed audience. The whole five-piece band format in tandem tonight gears towards this goal.

A personal viewpoint expressed all year has been that 'Eddie and Polly' edges 'Holly the Hustle' as the leading song on the new album. However there was role reversal this evening as the latter for instinctive reasons came across better. One constant all show was the desire to hang onto and savour every lyric Amy wrapped her vocal cords around. Right from 'That Haunted Old Place' in the set's early stages to the old favourite 'Oil Rigs at Night' at the heart of a four-song encore, this show was an intense yet highly pleasurable listening experience.

This latter song was one of the early introductions into the work of The Delines alongside the track 'Colfax Avenue' that also appeared in the set list tonight. While the focus of the show was mainly on the latest album, we were treated to both sides of a single recorded in Montana, with 'Eight Floors Up'  opening the set just after nine o'clock and 'Wait for Me' (the b side of the single) being one of a couple of songs Amy delivered from behind the keyboard. The latter moments allowed the trumpet of Cory Gray to be more directly expressed.

From a genre perspective, I would place The Delines right at the heart of Americana, maybe more from a wider social scale than a means for getting music to market. I lost count the number of places mentioned in songs, but will have a stab at Fort Worth, El Paso, Atlanta, Phoenix, Albuquerque and New Orleans for starters. Woven in between the themes, characters, places and issues are beautifully crafted songs proclaiming the worth of their originator.

Opening for The Delines for this and other shows on the tour was the experienced duo Jody Stephens and Luther Russell operating as the front piece of the band Those Pretty Wrongs. They are obviously artists steeped in the tradition of rock 'n' rollers edging into the early confines of alt-country and pre-Americana. They lent on a formula of harmonies and twang, and when in full flow came across as a decent act, whilst providing a good support choice for the refiner sounds of The Delines.

This Oxford show was held in the grand surroundings of St. John the Evangelist, a church with a well appointed interior that is clearly geared to hosting the arts alongside its prime purpose of existence. It is a venue occasionally used by promoter Empty Rooms Promotions and one that I last visited in 2014 to see Sarah Jarosz.

There has only been three Oxford gig trips this year, but the trio of Dale Watson, Ryan Bingham and The Delines make it a choice of only the best. With the gig year coming to a close, this show made a strong case for the personal favourite of the year, a thought that will be mulled over during the next six weeks. In the meantime, let's just reflect on the marvellous music made by The Delines, whether on record or on display in Oxford this evening.

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