Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Live music review: Billy Joe Shaver (plus Emily Barker) at Little Theatre, Gateshead 05/04/08

Despite the fact that it is just around the corner from where I live, I have never before been to the Little Theatre in Gateshead. To my knowledge, it is only recently that they have started to host gigs there, as opposed to am dram type stuff. But what a cute wee place! I would estimate that it has a capacity of about 120, and it is intimate, comfortable and beautifully lit. I was very impressed indeed. And what a novelty going to a small, yet seated, gig!

I am going to write this particular review in a backwards sort of fashion...for reasons that will become apparent. The main act, Billy Joe Shaver, took to the stage after a very brief interval, stood there waiting to be adored and beamed an award-winning smile at his audience. Discernably wearing the stories of his life (and there are plenty) on his face, he looked every bit of his 68 years.
If you are not familiar with Billy Joe Shaver then the basics of what you need to know are that he is one of country music's most esteemed songwriters - although he has never quite made it to household name as a singer - whose songs have been covered by the likes of Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings (whose 1973 album Honky Tonk Angels was comprised almost entirely of Shaver-penned tracks), Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash...who apparently went so far as to refer to him as "my favourite songwriter". With a true country music background of hard drinking (with buddies such as Willie Nelson), gambling and missing fingers, this is a fella that is held in very high regard (and, yep, he's in the Country Music Hall of Fame).
He was joined on stage by a guitarist and a slide guitarist, both much younger than he...all three of them stetsonned up to the nines. I shall cut to the chase. Shaver's singing and guitar playing were just not up to much; I don't know whether this results from his age or simply a lack of natural performing ability. The 'showmanship' was over-practised and ersatz and he barely spoke to, or even acknowledged, his fellow musicians. He very clearly had a 'don't cross me...I'm in charge of this one' thing going on and to me everything felt a little uncomfortable. Certainly I got the impression that any audience interaction would be frowned upon. He did, at a couple of points during the show, throw t-shirts into the audience, but there was no energy or enthusiasm there...this was obviously just behaviour he had been repeating forever and ever anon and, in all honesty, felt a bit 'needy'...like he was trying to win friends and influence people.
Whenever Shaver picked up his guitar (a guitar that sounded very out of tune), his guitarist would play along (identically) in the background, holding him up...in fact, the two non-Shavers really held this gig together, despite the seemingly awkward onstage relationship (Shaver as the 'big star', they his silent subordinates).
Billy's patter was, also, obviously very well trodden. On three separate occasions he proclaimed to the audience "If you don't love Jesus, you can go to Hell!"; this is even listed as a quote on his Wikipedia page! As the evening progressed I became ever more irritated with his preaching, as it began to feel like I had paid good money to go to some kind of Gospel church (only without the great singing!). His Jesus banter was constant and became very tedious indeed. Don't get me wrong, I am all for people having different beliefs and points of view, but I would very much rather they did not try to thrust them on me. Particularly when, as in this case, it was coming from a man who shot someone in the face only last year (apparently he was overheard saying "Where do you want it?")!
Perhaps that was it...he feels he needs Jesus on side a lot more than I do!
Aside from the lay preaching (and there was very little aside from the lay preaching!), it was all just a bit too earnest. For the duration of one song, he flapped his arms like an eagle...without so much as a trace of a smirk on his face. Again the atmosphere felt like 'wo betide anyone who should be unable to muffle their sniggers'.
So irked was I by the end that when, as I was making my way through the foyer when everything was done and dusted, Billy put his hand on my shoulder and asked me a polite 'How are you?' kind of question, I didn't really want to engage and gave the briefest of replies before making a swift exit. And so, although it is very out of character for me to be so unflinchingly critical, this is one I would really rather I had missed out on...very disappointing all round.
Perhaps I am just curmudgeonly, however, as the man next to me loved it! I do sometimes think that people often don't even consider being critical of their heroes, or even just someone they've paid to see. But a shite gig's a shite gig, right?

Except, that is, for the support act, who was bloody marvellous! Now do you see why I've written this review backwards?

Emily Barker, whose music I have not before had the pleasure of encountering, is from Western Australia and her sound reminded me a lot of her fellow Western Australians The Waifs...a one-woman Waifs if you like. She is due to be supporting them in May, so if you live in Edinburgh, Manchester, Sheffield or London (check her MySpace for dates) I would highly recommend that you get yourself along.
If you are not familiar with The Waifs (if not, then you blummin' well should be!), then Emily Barker sounds gently folk-pop (yeurch...that sounds so generic, bland and nondescript, doesn't it?) tinged with Americana...a smidge Gillian Welch, a modicum Cat Power, a dash Cowboy Junkies...that kind of shebang.
Her (original) songs were beautifully written, with intelligent lyrics, she played the guitar very well and also treated us to some harmonica. Emily seemed to be a little uncomfortable on stage, only because the venue was very silent and I think she is used to a bit more to-and-fro from her audiences, but this did not affect her performance and she was entirely charming throughout.
I wanted to buy a CD of hers at the end, however by this point Billy Joe Shaver was at the merch stand flogging his wares and, disgruntled as I was as a result of all his preaching, I was still too embarrassed to ask that he sell me a CD of the warm-up act when I had no desire to purchase any of his own! You can get that self-same CD at Smart Choice Music and I reckon it should be a good'un...I've ordered mine! (Emily assures me that it is a secure and trustworthy site).
Since Saturday I have barely been able to get her song This Is How It's Meant To Be out of my head...bearing in mind the fact that I had never heard it before. She also did an incredibly touching (I nearly messed my eye make-up!) song for her grandfather (Lord I Want An Exit - from the catalogue of her band The Low Country) and one about the ambivalence of leaving England to return home to Australia. Fields of June, which you can hear on her MySpace page, and on which she duets with Steve Adams of The Broken Family Band, is also a corker. Gorgeous stuff.

Lord I Want An Exit - The Low Country

Just as a reminder:
Visit Emily Barker at MySpace
Buy her album Photos Fires Fables



Thanks goodness Emily Barker saved the show otherwise Shaver would have probably left an even worse taste in your mouth. Tastefully done on a critical review ! It sounds like Shaver probably rubbed most of the audience the wrong way--a shame he didn't make up for his arrogance/ Jesus preaching with a knock-out performance...

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Anonymous said...

So what if he looks every bit his 68 years, after what he's been through he has every right to. Billy, like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan has never hidden his Christianity and his faith has featured heavily over the course of his career.And despite your sneering comments he has never been a man that has hidden his faults in his honest and passionate songs. The man is 68 now and still producing great albums like last years 'Everybody's Brother' but come on, no one goes to his live performances expecting to see the Shaver of his prime. They go to cherish and honour one of, if not the greatest songwriter to come from Texas. The live albums produced with his son Eddy are a testament to what the man was capable of live but he is now in the twilight of his career and though he kept a higher level of intensity for his live shows longer than most(including Dylan) he is now obviously slowing down and his fans appreciate that fact. Your obviously not a fan but some of your snooty comments were uncalled for in my opinion.

Divinyl said...

BB - She was very impressive...I've since bought her album and that of her band The Low Country...both worth a listen. As you know, it's not like me to post such a critical review, but his preaching really did p*ss me right off! Lol x

Divinyl said...

Alguel...thank you, and welcome to Ceci N'est Pas un Blog. I try to only add to my blog roll other blogs about music or, if not, people whose blogs I read regularly / I am already friendly with, but I appreciate your comment and...a hug back :o)

Divinyl said...

Anonymous - thank you for your comment (and welcome). I value when people are prepared to disagree and have a bit of a banter about it. Contrary to what you say, I am a fan...at least of his songwriting. I disagree that age necessarily means that artists' performances go downhill...you mentioned Johnny Cash, for example. Or how about Bo Diddley?

I have no problem at all with him being a Christian...that was not my point. My point was that I did not pay good money to go and be preached at. I respect that he holds different views to me...but he should also respect that his audience may hold different views to himself. He was not just speaking of his own love for Jesus...he was preaching to us that we should too.

That is like, if I were a singer with a mixed audience, preaching lesbianism to them! It's just not appropriate and certainly not what they would be paying to see.

And, as you finish with talking about your opinion, I think you should recognise that this blog is my opinion...I run it, and my opinion is what I am here to give. I never suggest that it is anything more than that, I don't expect everyone to agree with me (in fact, it can be more fun when they don't!), but it is my right, and this is my forum, to say exactly how I feel about things. After all, that is what a blog is for.