Shovels & Rope at Islington Assembly HallSupport: Matthew Logan Vasquez
February 6, 2017 at Islington Assembly Hall
Promoter: High Road Touring
I arrive at the venue a little late, a little harassed and very wet, but that is soon forgotten as I find support Matthew Logan Vasquez in full flight, a couple of songs into his set. What to say about this guy that can possibly sum up his energy and style? On a borrowed guitar and and a pick-up band he only met in soundcheck he bashes out songs that mix Neil Young, Pixies, The Gun Club and Jeff Buckley. It’s all chopping guitars, whoops and comic asides. Vasquez has a ramshackle air that’s just maybe a little studied, but the songs fighting out from under the delivery have real power and soul. His noisy rocking spirit is obvious in the over amped screaming delivery and is confirmed when he dedicates his last song to Lemmy (I may be only audience member to cheer this statement! ) Whatever that rock & grunge tear up is it turns into a ‘Negative Creep’ referencing blow out. Audacious. This kid has real talent.
Shovels & Rope intro music is Tom Waits scathing anti-war song ‘Hoist that Rag’… I dont know if that’s been standard throughout the tour, but you wonder how U.S. artists currently feel about presenting themselves when abroad. Shovels & Rope needn’t fear, this is a partisan crowd even before they turn the full beams of their Southern warmth upon us.
It kicks off with ‘I Know’, Michael leaning and crouched into his mic like the message is urgent, agitated, whilst drummer Carrie is an almost lazy and louche mix of mean and cool. By second number “Tickin’ Bomb ” it is already evident how well this married couples voices intertwine – they don’t meld, rather snake in around each others, elevating the sound, onwards and upwards towards the venues ceiling.
‘The Last Hawk’ for Garth Hudson sees Carrie moves to play keys and drums on an almost Motown beat, not at all the stately churchy vibe Hudson conjures, until the vocal breakdown which has mountain heart of Dolly, Loretta and Emmylou.
Carrie then swaps back to her on guitar for the blue grass stomp of ‘Gasoline’, Michael on harp as well as drums, beating on wildly into the equally rambunctious rock n’ roll of ‘Invisible Man’ which belies its carefree boot scooting rhythm by being about Alzheimer’s.
Carrie does most of the talking during to the show, the only souvenir they were able to carry on their European jaunt being “German colds” and Michael needs to save his voice and on the preamble to “Save the World” she talks about leaving the US on inauguration day and breezily,but with a hint of steel underneath declares “Me and Mark are optimistic people”
‘The Devil Is All Around’ does have a more Hudsonesque intro, the duo bathed in eerie red light, but it has one of their sweetest melodies and the vocal crescendo is a hairs on back of neck moment.
‘Evil’ does have a darker energy, it feels more like a big rock show, Michael stage left an organ creating big bassy fat notes. It’s a huge song but it loses the energy between the couples, there’s a magic when Carrie and Michael are toe to toe which cannot be explained.
‘St Andreas Fault Line Blues’ is pure, in opposition to ‘Evil’ it’s nice but prefer it a little dustier and dirtier. The show somehow moves towards a more intimate reverent atmosphere, leading to ‘Birmingham’ which is met with whoops from the opening strums from Carrie and drum clatter from Michael.It feels like a standard of Dylan proportions. Magical.
They end the main show on a fuzzy ‘Hail Hail’ and go off to an ovation.
They are soon back and that man Vasquez returns on guitar for encore of a Sigur Ros tune, I don’t know what it’s called, but I’ll wager it’s not usually that fiery!
Last song ‘Buffalo Nickel’ is all light shade, pause and attack, the drama so evident in every little thing they do it’s a wonder there records still sound so good on your stereo when they are not there to perform them.
This was my first gig on the year and seldom do you see a more winning example of the power of live music. Brilliant!