The night I nearly missed the gig (aka Laura Marling @ O2 ABC, Glasgow)


My relationship with Laura Marling might be best described as being “one-sided”, in that only one of us considers there to be a relationship, or indeed even knows of the others existence.  I’m content for it to remain that way, though, because as it is there is also only one of us who knows that there is no chance of any romance blossoming between us.

I almost missed my date with Laura Marling last night.  In fact, there’s a part of me that wonders if I maybe did miss it and the rest of the evening took place in some fanciful dream.  I fell asleep almost as soon as I checked into my hotel room around 6.45; I had only intended on sitting down for ten minutes but the next thing I knew it was 8.57 and I had no idea how that was possible, aside from the obvious explanation that the minute hand kept ticking around the clock as normal.

I’ve been sleeping so strange at night of late, almost as though I have forgotten how to sleep.  Or at least how to stay asleep, because I keep being returned from slumber at various points through the night as the gerbil running the wheel in my mind refuses to take a comfort break.

It’s frustrating, because how to sleep is one of those things that nobody ever taught us to do, we learned it for ourselves.  Like crying and sneezing and procrastinating.  It just happened, and I’m not sure how to begin teaching myself to sleep properly again.  I went into a branch of Waterstones in Glasgow this morning hoping to find a book in the self-help section which might offer some guidance, but I couldn’t find anything on the subject and I felt unsure as to whether I could ask the shop assistant for help finding a book in the self-help section, so I left.

After a brief moment of startled panic and frustration at having missed the Laura Marling gig, I realised that my hotel was but a stone’s throw away from the ABC and that I could still make it if I wanted to.  I stumbled out of my room in a daze, nothing felt real.  I withdrew some cash from a nearby ATM, only to open my wallet and realise that I must have done this earlier.  As I climbed the stairs into the venue I could hear the unmistakable sound of live music and I assumed that I had maybe missed the first song or two of Laura’s set.  Fifty minutes later the show was finished and it transpired that it was Friday night and the ABC becomes a club at 11pm, so rather than missing two songs I had actually missed forty minutes.

The entire experience felt like a dream, a discombobulated product of my weary unconscious.  On stage Laura Marling was dressed in a heavenly white gown, the microphone stands were adorned with flowers and shrubbery and she had a band.  I have never seen Laura Marling play with a band; it was surreal.

I could tell from the way that she wasn’t looking at me that our romance wasn’t going to progress on this occasion, but her beautiful voice made up for that disappointment.  It is difficult to be sad when there are musicians like her around.  If this was a dream it’s the nicest one I’ve had in some time.

Conor Oberst (w/Dawes) @ O2 ABC, Glasgow

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Backed by Los Angeles four-piece Dawes, Conor Oberst’s sometimes slow-paced, often morbid and depressive sound was brought to life in an explosive two-hour set which spanned everything from his work with the Mystic Valley Band to a ton of Bright Eyes material and a selection of songs from this year’s Upside Down Mountain.

Make no mistake – Dawes threatened at times to steal this show with their vintage rock sound, which was the perfect accompaniment to Oberst’s sweetly painful vocals.  Their guitar-led harmonies gave a new dimension to We Are Nowhere And It’s Now – which was almost seething – and placed newer songs like Zigzagging Toward The Light on a pedestal alongside the more popular Bright Eyes tracks.

It would be easy to think that something such as Lua would lose some of its delicacy in this environment, but if anything it was enhanced by the crackling of Taylor Goldsmith’s electric guitar – particularly in his mid-song solo – and Conor’s voice seemed to be energised by it.

A mid-set triumvirate of a searing Lover I Don’t Have To Love, Hundreds of Ways and the beautiful Bowl of Oranges was the night’s outstanding highlight and worth the price of admission alone.

At times Conor Oberst’s music is better suited to the almost lonesome, understated approach – such as with his solo show at Barbican last year – but on occassions like this show in Glasgow last night he really benefits from a band who can add an entirely new element to his music, which is exactly what Dawes did.

The Felice Brothers & Craig Finn @ O2 ABC, Glasgow

It’s quite a rare thing to go to a gig where you’re looking forward to seeing the support act as much as you are the headline band.  It happened last year with Jesse Malin supporting Ryan Adams and maybe once before, when I bought a ticket to see Ray LaMontagne in Edinburgh for the sole reason that Josh Ritter was supporting the bearded crooner.  Otherwise, the support act is usually background noise as you load up on Jack Daniels at the bar.

Last night was one of those rare occasions as Craig Finn (frontman of The Hold Steady) joined The Felice Brothers at the ABC in Glasgow – the largest venue the band have ever played, according to Ian Felice.  Craig played a selection of songs from his current solo recordClear Heart, Full Eyeswith the audience (those who weren’t already aware of Finn) becoming more appreciative with every song,New Friend Jesusbeing particularly well received.

It’s difficult not to smile – sometimes even laugh – at Craig’s hand gestures and hip swaying during his performance.  It may look camp but there is no denying that it adds to his set, to the overall narrative of his lyrics.  It’s easy to see that Craig Finn as a strong passion and belief in his music and that made the opening set last night a real treat.

This wasn’t to be the last time we saw the Hold Steady frontman, however.  He would later join The Felice Brothers on stage for a rousing performance of Frankie’s Gun, with Craig swinging his arms and his hips whilst swigging from a can of beer.  It was undoubtedly the highlight of the night.  Craig Finn on stage with The Felice Brothers.  Wow.

The Felice Brothers themselves are a musically talented four-piece.  Ian’s voice, as has been documented here before, is eerily reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s – even moreso in a live setting – and his brother James is an excellent accordionist.  The bulk of their set came from their self-titled fifth album – easily their most accessible work and, happily for me, the only one of their records which I own.

Curiously for a St. Patrick’s Day set they opened with Murder By Mistletoe, a song displaying Ian’s excellent vocals but nonetheless Christmas-themed.  Another curious event came during the performance of Take This Bread, when I witnessed the first – and almost certainly last – instance of a band chucking slices of bread into the audience.  Naturally, this being a Glaswegian crowd, much of that bread ended up back on the stage.

Love Me Tenderly was given a pacier, rockier tempo and after a scattering of some songs unfamiliar to me the set reached a storming climax with the previously mentioned Frankie’s Gun and crowd favourite of the night,Whiskey In My Whiskey.  There was still another song plus the two-song encore to come after those two songs, but I couldn’t help but feel that the night should have ended with Whiskey In My Whiskey.  It was such a rousing, crowd-pleasing number that the remainder of the set fell kinda flat afterwards.

That minor complaint aside this was an immensely enjoyable night in the company of an excellent band in The Felice Brothers and the terrific Craig Finn.  The Felice Brothers are one of the finest bands I’ve seen live and the audience loved every moment of their set.

The Revival Tour

The Revival Tour is a collaborative event formed by Chuck Ragan in 2008 with the intention of returning to the traditions and spirit of folk music.  It’s the concept of friends and families and communities coming together to share music.

Joining Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music) on the 2011 tour are Brian Fallon (The Gaslight Anthem), Dave Hause (The Loved Ones) and Dan Andriano (Alkaline Trio).  Each artist was given a thirty minute set to perform their own songs, often joined by one or two of the others, with all four combining on songs between the sets.

Upon entering the ABC it quickly became evident that this was going to be quite a spectacle, with a range of guitars and violins and harmonicas and a double bass lining the stage.  Each of those instruments would be used to full effect over the next two and a half hours, and the first highlight of the night came a couple of songs in when the four men performed The Gaslight Anthem’s Great Expectations.

I don’t think that in my wildest dreams I could ever have imagined Gaslight Anthem songs being played in such a folk setting, with three acoustic guitars, a violin and a double bass, but that’s what happened last night, and it worked.  Great Expectations, American Slang, The ‘59 Sound, Old White Lincoln and Boxer all took on an entirely different meaning last night, and in a Brian Fallon set which also included my two favourite songs from the Horrible Crowes record – Behold The Hurricane and Ladykiller – as well as a beautiful performance of the old-school Blue Jeans & White T-Shirt and a couple of new songs, Fallon was elevated into iconic status.

Fallon aside, Chuck Ragan’s talent stood out amongst the group.  That was always going to be the case from the moment he took an harmonica to his mouth.  His voice was probably the strongest of the group and his harmonica playing was as good as I’ve heard live – and that includes the likes of Ryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen and even Neil Young.

Dan Andriano was probably the most utilised artist of the night, playing a role in (I think) everyone’s set while Dave Hause had a boundless energy.  I’m definitely keen to hear some more Loved Ones material.

This was a non-stop, foot-stomping experience.  There wasn’t the usual lull between the support act and the headliner, no breaks between sets.  It was two-and-a-half continuous hours of acoustic folk music.  You didn’t know who was going to play next, who would collaborate with who.

It was a brilliant gig.  It honestly might not be a stretch to declare it the best of the year.  And the really great thing about it all was seeing how much the musicians enjoyed playing their music.  They were having a great time, and the audience were too.

A truly great night.  If The Revival Tour is coming to a town near you in the following weeks, and you have any love for music at all, then you’ll go and check it out.