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”Â, 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?