Josh T Pearson, Phoenix Theatre, Exeter, 25th November
Two cannibals are sitting down eating a dead clown. One turns to the other and says 'Can you taste something funny?'
This is one of many jokes Josh T Pearson told throughout his solo performance last night, others mainly about musicians, drummers, ducks and fucking goats. I was surprised - unaware that this is the norm for his live performances - and the jokes were often pretty crude and puerile stuff [a friend said Jethro told 'jokes' like this, which was interesting]. But when your individual and lengthy songs are as deep and despairing as Pearson's, and sung in a trance-like state that seems to remove him completely from audience and place, it is understandable that they will be punctuated by light relief in order to keep from disappearing into the dark.
It was a mesmerising performance. On record, you actually hear the lyrics more clearly, and the occasional string accompaniment on his album Last of the Country Gentlemen adds sombre depth, but seeing and hearing Josh perform live is a singular and significant experience. His vocal range, especially in volume, is a key instrument along with the amped acoustic guitar where songs are played across simple chords but finger plucked and then flamingo strummed - again ranging across the full volume spectrum from inaudible to orchestral. The songs seem to end when they have to: when the emotion is exhausted. It is a memorable experience to see him like this.
There was good crowd banter with Josh last night. One key moment was when someone shouted 'Do you like women?'. Pearson pondered on this and then it became somewhat of a focus with his recurring expression of incredulity about being asked if he liked women, supported by expressions of loving blow jobs and so on to follow. The man who shouted the question said his girlfriend had asked. More incredulity. I just thought that it was, in the circumstances, quite a deep and understandable question because Pearson's lyrics do so often portray the violence, threatened or real, of a man against a woman. I imagine this to be the voice of a persona, not Pearson, but you can understand the question being asked.
Pearson does tell a great joke about cunnilingus and Willie Nelson, but you'll have to see him yourself for a chance to hear this one. For a very good review and interview, check this out: