Josh T Pearson at London Union Chapel

It’s become a kind of heresy to say this, but Josh T. Pearson’s, ahem, ‘minimalist’ solo stuff isn’t a patch on his work with the phenomenal Lift To Experience. The Texan trio’s legendary Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads album – released in 2001 – is a stormy masterpiece and their gigs at the time were deafening and beautiful in equal measure; those who saw their stunning UK gigs a decade ago will cherish the memories forever.

Which is why I snapped up tickets for Josh’s solo show at London’s Union Chapel as soon as they became available, before I’d heard his new solo album, the unanimously critically acclaimed Last Of The Country Gentlemen. Which is just as well, because after numerous plays its overlong, aimlessly meandering songs have still to make any kind of emotional connection, and if anything the record becomes more frustrating every time I hear it. But hey, the critics insist this one-miserable-man-plucking-a-guitar opus is a flawless classic and not the exercise in gloomy self-indulgence that I perceive it to be, so what do I know?

But perhaps it will all make sense when heard in the context of the Union Chapel, I thought, and found myself taking up position in the pew with a renewed sense of belief; how could Josh fail to impress beneath the stained glass windows and awe-inspiring columns of this magnificent 19th century church? Hang on, what’s that – he’s already started? Must have drifted off there, but you need something to focus on as Sweetheart, I Ain’t Your Christ and Country Dumb snore on, sticking rigidly to the singer’s latter-day whispery/frenetic formula, meandering aimlessly back and forth with the tempo stuck firmly on torpor.

At times it’s unclear if Josh is playing to entertain the audience or for his own private amusement. His careless admission that he’d barely bothered to rehearse prior to the gig, and a casual announcement that tonight’s promised string quartet will in fact be a trio due to prohibitive costs, combined with incongruous jokes and tortuous interlinking banter that provokes one spectator to yell out “play a song”, creates the impression less of travelling minstrel and more of lazy stand-up comic. Is he ‘aving a laugh!? We definitely aren’t.

Eventually a particularly yawn-inducing fusion of Thou Art Loosed and Rivers Of Babylon provokes an unfortunate audience member to burst into loud and possibly desperate applause during one of the many lulls that hint tantalisingly at an approaching conclusion to the medley. As it becomes clear that Josh still hasn’t bloody finished, we cringe, and the heavily bearded performer fixes the culprit with an icey stare.

It goes on. And on. Someone behind us seems to be falling asleep. We decide we’ve had enough and sneak out to catch an early train: result!

Seriously though. Could someone please have a word with the once-great Mr Pearson, or is his ego already beyond salvation?

Mr Spencer


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6 comments on “Josh T Pearson at London Union Chapel”

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  1. I was there also. Really really dull, the union chapel outshone him. This third rate wannabe Will Oldham’s performance was tedious.

  2. Thing is, Josh’s songs in Lift To Experience were similarly long and meandering, but they also boasted absorbing dynamics and a semblance of structure which meant they were hypnotic rather than one-dimensional and dull. Perhaps Andy Young and Josh Browning provided a certain ‘band discipline’ which is absent from Pearson’s solo music? At the Union Chapel I found myself wondering how many of the crowd were listening in genuine awe and how many merely felt they should be. It was a real King’s New Clothes moment, which is partly why we left early – too tempting to call out “the singer’s in the all together”!

  3. Don’t understand this review. Mr Spencer seems to want an artist to replicate his stuff from aeons ago rather than developing his craft. I’d be pissed off if I saw a band with new material rehashing former glories, and as for a solo act rehashing his bands former glories… I suffered Roland Gift (and I mean suffered) performing Fine Young Cannibals material. Really disappointing. So the album isn’t Mr Spencers personal cup of tea. Fine. So why go? To say ‘I was there’ when people talk about it? I wish I had been able to go, this review leaves me cold. I now know less about the performance and more of the reviewers preferences.

  4. I found the show pretty absorbing, though there were definitely some lulls, not least the medley you mention. Woman when I’ve raised Hell and Country Dumb both sounded gorgeous. That said, it was nowhere near as good as his Christmas 2009 gig at Cargo with the drummer from LTE. That was the best 45 mins of rock n’roll I’d seen all year, and I dearly hope he gets round to recording that material with a full band.

    • Drew, I didn’t know he’d played with Andy Young at Cargo, bet that was good! I think Josh needs the structure of a band to add discipline to his songs, particularly live. For me, there are plenty of lovely, soulful moments on the new album but these are lost in the overlong and one-dimensional songs which diminish rather than support the – yes – gorgeous hooks. I’d hoped the Union Chapel gig would offer a context in which these slow-burning songs would make more sense to me, but instead Josh’s lack of focus became more acute and drifted into samey and, it seemed to me, soulless self-indulgence. Before the gig he was one of my heroes; I very much want him to be my hero again, and as you suggest, I think a regular band would be a good starting point. Less pointless plucking, more tunes!

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