Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Gig Heaven

Well, last night was the Maria McKee gig I've been looking forward to for weeks. And what a gig it was! First off was the venue. Bush Hall is somewhere I hadn't heard of 18 months ago. It seems to be the best kept secret location for small gigs in London. About 10 minute's walk from the Shepherds Bush Empire, it's a small, unprepossessing little hall. In fact, if you didn't know it was there, you'd walk straigh past without noticing it. Inside, it's got a capacity of about 350 at a guess. It means that if there's no seating (like last night) if you're at the back, you're still probably only going to be about 25 to 30 feet from the stage. The staff are all friendly as well. If you look at sme of the names who have played there, you would've thought it would be better known...

As for the gig itself, it was awesome! Maria came on stage at 9pm, and stunned us all by launching straight into Life Is Sweet. Now, this is usually her final number, so you can imagine the shock! It's still such a perfect song ten years after it was written. I swear it ranks alongside One by U2 as one of those songs that have the ability to transfix and transport you away. I couldn't believe that she chose it as her opener. After that, she joked "It's all downhill from here!". Typical Maria :-) All the way through the gig, she was joking with the audience, teasing her husband Jim (who was back on bass guitar duties), regaling us with the fact that Tom, the drummer, got held up in customs as he hadn't got his work visa yet, or that Amy on backing vocals was in fact the nanny of her Irish Godchildren. She has such a natural way with the audience. On top of that, she's blessed with such an amazing voice and range. She can make songs soar into air, then slip effortlessly into a growl to bring power to a real rocker of a song. Even when she's done backing vocals for other people (such as Texas and U2) her voice shines out. When it comes to her own material, then the power and emotion comes through even more. It's really a voice that has to be heard live to get the full effect. Even though her albums are great, hearing her sing live is ten times better.

As for the songs, I think she chose to go easy on us by not doing too many from the new album, partly because the album only came out yesterday, so we didn't have much chance to learn them! Of the ones she did play, it sounds like her new album is a scorcher, again exploring musical styles that you wouldn't normally expect, and finding fertile ground for her songwriting. In the end the songs came from almost all the last 20+ years that she's been in the business. It went back all the way to old Lone Justice tracks such as Shelter, Wheels, Dixie Storms, through to her early solo songs; Breathe, Am I The Only One (Who Ever Felt This Way), Has He Got A Friend For Me?, up to the Life Is Sweet era, (Absolutely Barking Stars, Life Is Sweet), and High Dive (High Dive). There was even A Good Heart, the song she wrote that became a big hit for Feargal Sharkey. I'm looking forward to hearing the version that she's recorded for her new album (once my copy finally arrives from Amazon!). As for finishing with You Are The Light, that was a special touch, particularly for those of us who were at her gig last year at Bush Hall. At that gig, her guitar went out of tune, and she had to fill in while Susan (who was doing backing vocals at the time) went backstage to tune it. So, she launched into an accapella version of the old Lone Justice classic You Are The Light. It got a great reception then, and an even better one last night. All in all, a wonderful night:-) It's almost criminal that she isn't as well known as other singer-songwriters who came after.

If anyone out there who likes good music can do far far worse than buy Maria's new album, Late December It's music at it's most pure...

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