It feels strange to walk into Whelan’s and not see Joe Nicholson at the ticket window. Since his recent death, the music community of Dublin has been in shock at the news of his passing and I was not looking forward to my first visit back to the venue since his burial.
But, if there was to be an appropriate tribute paid to Joe, then the capacity crowd at tonight’s show would be it. He would have been so pleased to see a full house and the respect with which the audience listened to each artist as they played solo sets of stripped-down song arrangements was most appropriate. Also, the absence of any mobile phones held in the air for infuriatingly long periods of time was another happy occurrence. Maybe Joe was looking down on us after all…
The evening started with Josh Rouse playing a set of 12 songs, all from a seated position, which took away somewhat from his stage presence. However, the quality of the songs cannot be in doubt and his easy presence, confident story telling and sense of humour go a long way to bringing the audience along with him for what was a very enjoyable ride.
A single guitar can seem a little skinny after the first few songs but Josh has a deft touch on the instrument and plays some extended solos over the rhythm as he gets the audience to participate on singing the choruses. His latest release, Love In The Modern Age, is featured and three songs are included from the album, the title track, followed by Businessman and Salton Sea. The opening and closing songs from the set were taken from his 2003 album, ironically titled 1972 (the year he was born) and the opening song (1972) and the closing, Comeback (Light Therapy), were both performed to an enthusiastic reception. He also played a great version of Love Vibration from the same album later in the set.
In between, we were given It’s The Nightime, Sad Eyes and Winter In The Hamptons (Nashville release), Quiet Town and Summertime (Subtitulo release), Dressed Up Like Nebraska (debut release) and Lemon Tree (El Turista release). So, he covered a lot of ground in 50 minutes, with six of his albums revisited in this intimate fashion. A fine performance.
After a short break we were joined by Grant Lee Phillips for his set and he performed a selection of songs also from across his career with as much engaging presence as Josh Rouse and plenty of personality. Grant Lee performs in a style that is more energetic and his rhythmic playing drives the songs along as he sings in that sweet voice that has lost none of its presence over the years.
His latest release, Witherskins, is featured and the first two numbers, Walk in Circles and Something’s Gotta Give are taken from this album. Smoke and Sparks (The Narrows), Mona Lisa & Lily-A-Passion (Virginia Creeper), Dream in Colour (Strangelet), Strangest Thing (Little Moon), all follow as he builds up a real momentum.
The Grant Lee Buffalo catalogue is also visited with Mockingbirds, Jupiter & Teardrop, Honey Don’t Think and we also get a new song, Leave a Light On - superb in every way.
The encore is three songs shared by the two artists and the performance vibe between them is very strong, leaving me wondering if they should have worked out a way to play more together during the overall two hours of performance.
A cover of the Church song, Under The Milky Way, kicks things off before Empire State, (a song they wrote together), is performed and the final cherry on the cake is a version of Boys Don’t Cry, the Cure song that works just perfectly on the night.
Credit to Aiken Promotions for bringing this duo to our city and a big thanks to the enduring talents of the two artists who gave stellar performances to a packed audience that was clearly delighted with the events of the evening.
Review by Paul McGee Photography by Kaethe Burt O’Dea