Josh T. Pearson live
JOSH T PEARSON + RICHARD WARREN
MANCHESTER DEAF INSTITUTE 27/3/11
“I wonder if that’s Richard Warren from Echoboy?” was our first thought when we spotted the support’s name on the poster. “Nah, can’t be” was our second on walking into the venue to hear a rather lovely sounding but not exactly electronic singer-songwriter complete with acoustic guitar and harmonica. Warren, you see, effectively was Echoboy (although he had a band for live appearances) – a synth-heavy act signed to Mute Records around the turn of the century who mixed up “krautrock”, techno and indie sounds but never forgot to stick a decent tune and a load of hooks in. Although Nottingham based, they had an album launch at Night & Day in 2003 and… I know, you’re asking why this is relevant: well, said album launch involved the giveaway of a large number of distinctive red Echoboy T-shirts and today my companion has randomly pulled one from the “old T-shirts you wear to slop around the house on a Sunday” pile, and is still wearing it. …”Bloody hell, it is him.” That voice, and that way with a melody… has to be.
above:Richard Warren onstage in Manchester: photo by Cath Aubergine
Since leaving electronica behind (alongside a large body of work which would fit rather better into the independent music scene of 2011 than it did eight years ago when Interpol and the Libertines’ very guitar-based post-punk revivalism was the sound everyone wanted) Warren’s done stints with Spiritualized and Mark Lanegan’s Soulsavers, which makes the journey to where he stands now a little more comprehensible. This being a brooding corner of contemporary “British Americana” rather like a stripped-down Bone-box where indie, folk, country, blues and woozy pop all exert an influence. And despite the washes of reverb there’s a distinct melancholy to his voice; the songs, too, are the songs of a man who’s seen it all and was largely unimpressed with it, whatever it may have been. A man in his thirties who will never be the next big thing again but still has something to say and a warm rich guitar sound with which to accompany it. He goes down very well with a crowd probably mostly unaware of the details of his past, but in no doubt that he’s had one.
Coming off stage, he’s as amazed to see someone wearing one of his old band’s T-shirts as we were to see him here…
A tall man in a neat black suit bounds onto the stage: “Hey! How you doing? It’s my birthday!” Not exactly the introduction we’d expected from Josh T Pearson. A few years ago, with his much-lauded band Lift To Experience receding into the past, he sat skinny and dishevelled onstage looking like a strong gust of wind could take him. Age has been kind to him, though, and it’s a healthy and relatively energetic 37-year-old (admittedly one with the impressive beard of a backwoodsman far older) who addresses us – well, once the impromptu “Happy Birthday To You” has died down. “This is the prettiest room I’ve ever played in… well I’ve not played yet, but… What’s it called again?” “Deaf Institute” offers someone in the crowd. “What?” “Deaf… ah.” As the singer cups his ear, the fan clocks the joke. It won’t be the last joke this evening (although it could conceivably be the funniest). Is this really the same Josh T Pearson? The one who finally got round to releasing an album last month, a full decade on from LTE’s celebrated “The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads” – that was so dark and wrought in personal anguish that nearly every review involved the word “catharsis”? Pretty much the only way this evening could get any more surreal would be if he were to kick off his set with, I dunno, a Boney M cover…
“This is a Boney M cover.”
More laughs. “Rivers Of Babylon” is of course not a Boney M song, as anyone who’s seen “The Harder They Come” will attest – but to a 37-year-old singer and his similar-vintage fans it’ll always be a Boney M song – and we soon stop laughing, as Pearson’s evocative voice wanders deep into the song’s biblical roots and unearths things neither the German disco act nor the Jamaican originators ever did. Religious imagery has always been a big influence lyrically on this genuine son of a preacher man, whilst his sound is that of the dry, dusty desert with a side order of Nick Cave. “I ainÃÂt the saviour you so desperately need” he sings on “Sweetheart I AinÃÂt Your Christ” and it’s hard to tell exactly whom he despised the most during the gestation of these songs – himself or the recipient of his screwed-up heart. This is not easy listening, but it’s only when he strums the final chord that we realise what’s so unusual about tonight: there are maybe 250 people in this nearly sold out venue but while he is singing you could hear a pin drop. Almost literally: someone’s foot catches a glass bottle on the floor and its very rattle seems intrusive. Maybe a Josh T. Pearson crowd is just naturally more respectful that the sort of twats you sometimes encounter at quiet gigs, who seem to think their conversation is more important than the singer they and we have paid to see – but maybe it’s just that he’s drawn everyone in so deeply nobody even thinks about talking.
“What’s the last thing a drummer says before he’s fired from a band?” “Hey, I got a song….”
This is actually the least worst of the jokes he shares with us between songs. We can hardly believe this is the same man whose stage banter five or six years ago was restricted to the occasional drawled thanks. He’s even up for some audience participation, asking for requests – and all becomes clearer when someone puts in a call for “Devil’s On The Run”… “it’s gonna be weird without a drink, three years now and it fuckin’ sucks, thank you to Elbow for bringing the bottle of whisky but I can’t use it…” but he does the song, and it’s amazing. gets the whole room singing the refrain, over and over. You get the feeling that were it not for the curfew he could have carried on all night. As it is he hangs around to chat to fans, handing out shots of the whisky he no longer needs – a remarkable talent and a true gentleman.