Live Review of John Smith in Bristol

Live Review John Smith Bristol Louisiana 04/04/13

It’s a clear but cold night in Bristol, with the sun setting orange over the river Avon. I’m going to the Lousiana, renowned home to intimate gigs by Amy Winehouse, the White Stripes and many others. Although it has an iconic façade – like a 20’s Mississippi steamboat facing out onto the street – and I’ve driven past it hundreds of times, I’ve never been in. Tonight your editor Rich asked me to break that duck and visit for the benefit of John Smith.

Review of John Smith Gig, Bristol

Review of John Smith gig in Bristol

It’s noisy, and it’s dark, and I’m early, and I’m drinking bloody Coke. However, at 8:30 the magic rope vanishes and we’re ushered up to the first floor. As I enter, support Beth Porter has already started. The Bath-based waif is dressed for the weather in scarf, tights and even a hint of legwarmer. She plays a set of pretty, warbling folk to a quiet audience, with some stunning cello work on tracks ‘Time’ and ‘These Days’. Is it me or do I detect a hint of Mary Hopkin about her voice? (Ask yer parents, kidz…)

John Smith is a copper-haired singer songwriter who hails from Essex, Brixham and Liverpool, depending on which part of the anecdote he’s on. His videos, such as the one for ‘Town to Town’  and his album sleeve suggest an intensity and seriousness that brings to mind beardy US alt-folkies such as Midlake. In person, however, he’s affable, very self-deprecating – the sort of bloke you’d gladly have a bourbon with.

I downloaded his album, ‘Great Lakes’, to prep for the gig and I was taken with the catchiness of the songs and the deftness of his guitar-playing. What the album doesn’t prepare you for is Smith’s virtuosity in front of the mic. He’s a rare artist that uses volume as an integral part of his music – singing quietly, loudly, distant from the mic, close-up – it adds a third dimensionality to his sound that you’ll only really catch in person.

He joked that the 70 or so attending were a much bigger audience than he expected, but those who came really got their money’s worth. From a spine-tingling acapella section on the album’s title track, to the multiple guitar styles – often within a single song, such as ‘Freezing Winds of Change’ –he never got boring, and kept the audience with him all the way. There were some interesting choices of cover too – he bemoaned Fleetwood Mac’s non-appearance at Glastonbury, but played a hugely adept cover of ‘Never Going Back Again’. A cracking version of Jai Paul’s ‘Jasmine’ (see it here at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRJdwCgDoEg) climaxed in a wail which I swear ripped a hole in the space-time continuum.

This is my first live review for Musiceyz and I didn’t know what I’d be assigned. What I didn’t expect was a really enjoyable evening with two artistes who I would pay to see again with my own money. Check out ‘Great Lakes’ and if your tastes run to Nick Drake or John Martyn with a 21stcentury sensibility you won’t go far wrong.

Find out more, including upcoming tour dates, at http://johnsmithjohnsmith.com/. While you’re chroming it, check out www.bethporter.co.uk

Review by Steve Noble

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