With his tall, stalky appearence, long shaggy hair and bushy beard, Israel Nash Gripka looks a lot like a grizzly bear. But his voice is anything but wild, more like Mick Jagger would have sounded if he had stayed away from the booze and the pills.
In this modest venue tucked beneath the streets of Glasgow’s city centre, with pipes running over the stage and walls which clearly didn’t take much decorative imagination, live music was returned to an era where all the performer needed was a guitar and an harmonica. There were no audio faux pas here, though as Israel demonstrated in his last song he doesn’t even need a microphone; his voice is impressive enough to fill a small venue without it.
This was music at its grassroots best. Every pluck of the guitar string reverborated around the room like a heartbeat; each blast of harmonica carried to all four corners; Gripka’s voice was powerful and brimming with emotion, all played out before an appreciative audience who Israel furnished with tales about his recent move from New York to a ranch in Texas, where he raised two billy goats named David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust, though “it turns out that David Bowie is a girl.”
I wasn’t overly familiar with much of Israel’s material last night, partly due to him playing a few new songs from his forthcoming new record and largely because I’ve only really listened to one of his albums (2009’s New York Town). Though that didn’t hinder my enjoyment of his set because everything felt familiar in a way, almost like a long lost friend.
Of the songs I knew, Fools Gold was a fine opener and Goodbye Ghost was a chilling harmonica-laden ballad, while Red Dress was jaw-droppingly beautiful.
Sometimes live music doesn’t have to be all about elaborate sound production, strobe lighting and a multitude of big instruments. When it is stripped back to just a guy with a guitar and harmonica it provides moments of true beauty. All I can think about is this man’s voice; it’s a true treat.