Roddy Frame – Live Review: Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 22nd May, 2014

 

Live Review:  Roddy Frame, Shepherds Bush Empire, London.

Thursday 22nd May, 2014.

Photo by Gill McGregor, used with kind permission.

Photo by Gill McGregor, used with kind permission.

I went to the Shepherds Bush Empire with a huge weight of expectation. Roddy Frame, both solo and as the driving force of Aztec Camera, has been a very important songwriter to me over the past few decades and yet, because of work commitments and the fact that he simply doesn’t do very many gigs, I had yet to see him perform live before. I was so determined not to miss this gig that I booked a ticket despite the fact I’d been in Barcelona for a few days and was only landing at Gatwick at 5pm that day. It’ll be fine, I told myself, even if I miss the support act, I’ll get there in time for Roddy – and that’s what happened, I made it by the skin of my teeth! Was it worth that much stress and effort? You bet. One of the most pleasing things about the night was the audience. I have spent many an evening frustrated by the disinterest and rudeness of a London crowd who think it is perfectly acceptable to chat away whilst the artist is playing, but Roddy Frame’s fans? Not a chance. When you see the phrase “dedicated following” in a review, these are the kind of fans described perfectly by that. We were all there for Roddy and it was an absolute pleasure to be in the company of so many people who obviously appreciated great music. Even as early as 8.45pm, there were claps, cheers and calls of “Come on, Roddy!”.

Frame took to the stage at 9pm, together with his band (second guitarist, drummer, keyboards, bass) and declared his intent to play lots of songs from right across his career. With the energy of a man half of his age, he was light on his feet, near-danced with pleasure between songs and seemed to be having a thoroughly great time up there. There was an excellent mix of song from all throughout his career, as well. He opened with the catchy “Forty Days Of Rain” from his superb new album “Seven Dials” (which suffered very slightly from Roddy’s acoustic guitar being completely lost in the mix) and joked that he was a bit tired because he’d played at least four gigs in the last year. He was full of smiles, jokes and stories throughout the evening and it was an immense pleasure to see a performer who seemed to be having as much of a good time as his audience, if indeed that is possible. The Roddy Frame catalogue is massively stronger than anybody who isn’t familiar with anything other than his biggest hits could possibly imagine and the very strong, diverse set was testament to that. In the part of the set, the venue sang along lovingly to the joyous “Walk Out To Winter”, the album opener from his latest release, “White Pony”, had soaring melodies, beautiful chord changes and a spine-tingling, gorgeous guitar solo and we were thrilled by a glorious “Oblivious” belted out by a grinning Frame, resplendent with his trademark breathtaking Spanish guitar-style solo. Together with a piano and vocals version of “On The Avenue”, a powerful rendition of “The North Star” and his lush, self-proclaimed California song, “Postcard”, it was very clear we were witnesses to a very special night indeed.

Roddy was in fine voice, too… to hear him perform live with that incomparable vocal instrument of his was a greater thrill than I ever could have imagined. He did the first verse of the timeless fan-favourite “Killermont Street” with a capo on the second fret and his vocals were goosebumps-inducing, although he seemed to change his mind after the highest notes and removed it, going into a lower key for the rest of the song. When he went for the harmonica solo, I wondered if he would struggle at all to transpose it to the different key, but, no, it was absolutely note perfect, leading me to believe that he either made a mistake having the capo on in the first place or that he’s an incredibly gifted natural musician – or both, perhaps? The vocal performance on “English Garden”, especially the explosive finale, was simply stunning. He wasn’t flawless; the electric guitar solo on his peerless piece of perfect pop, “Somewhere In My Heart”, for example, was played on the wrong fret as Roddy bashfully admitted right afterwards (“I’ll have to practise!” he laughed), but these very occasional mistakes and human touches were a much a part of the attraction of the night (after all, who wants to go to a gig and hear note-perfect carbon copies of the records?) and a part of Frame’s charm.

That charm was also evident from the way he connected with his audience, playing “Mattress Of Wire” during the encore for a fan, Craig, who had asked him for it on Twitter, to the way he was happy to chat in-between songs with his very obviously adoring fans answering their questions about origins of songs. Perhaps my favourite piece of banter was when he was reminiscing on how he spoilt his quiet, enigmatic career with his third album and did an impression of a reviewer… “Mmm, soul influences, 3 out of 5”, chucklingly stating that he should have stopped after the second. I think I can speak for everyone at the Shepherds Bush Empire by saying that we’re very glad you didn’t, Roddy. The solo spot during the first encore was memorable, with Roddy bursting momentarily into a blistering, high energy version of “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, giving the kind of full-blooded performance that you could only stare at, open-mouthed in admiration; if buskers performed Dylan songs with that much passion and flair, they’d get money from me every time.

All-in-all, after he concluded the first encore with the frankly magnificent “We Could Send Letters” and then came back for a second encore to perform the beautifully laid back “Back On Board”, taking the audience back to his 1983 début (some would say his masterpiece, but I’d say that would be doing the rest of his catalogue a grave disservice), the audience still called out for more, but I was utterly content and couldn’t have asked for anything better from my first Roddy Frame gig, as he surpassed any expectations I had, completely and with style. Each and every song was wonderful (if I enthused about them all, this review would be twice the size). It’s very rare you spend an hour and a half with a musician in a venue like Shepherds Bush and feel like you’ve connected completely with an artist, but Roddy achieved the near-impossible with his music and his demeanour. There was something rather wonderful in the air last night, confirmed by people grinning at each other afterwards, shaking their heads in disbelief, overhearing and indulging in a few awed words exchanged between smiling, near-speechless strangers as we filed out, content and floating on a wave of positivity, still hearing that beautiful music in our minds, long after it had finished. That may have been my long-overdue first Roddy Frame gig, but it won’t be my last. After an experience like that, you can’t help agreeing with the man; the closest thing is to heaven is to rock ‘n’ roll.

 

Setlist:

  1. Forty Days Of Rain
  2. Bigger, Brighter, Better
  3. White Pony
  4. The North Star
  5. Into The Sun
  6. Walk Out To Winter
  7. The Crying Scene
  8. English Garden
  9. On The Avenue
  10. Killermont Street
  11. The Other Side
  12. Lost Outside The Tunnel
  13. Oblivious
  14. Somewhere In My Heart
  15. Postcard

Encore:

  1. Mattress Of Wire
  2. Down The Dip
  3. Birth Of The True
  4. We Could Send Letters

Second Encore:

  1. Back On Board

 

Photo by Gill McGregor, used with kind permission.

Photo by Gill McGregor, used with kind permission.

 

Review by Andy Sweeney.

 

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