Thursday, 24 January 2019

Chris Smither with support The Suitcase Junket: The Phoenix, Exeter, 23rd January, 2019

Ruminative and Quirky Mix

Last night at the Phoenix, Exeter, was top-class as musical entertainment: headline act the great Chris Smither in ruminative form and playing a large slice of songs from his latest outstanding album Call Me Lucky [reviewed here]; and as is so often the case with a support act, the wonderful discovery of new-to-me talent, this time The Suitcase Junket, Matt Lorenz as a one man band igniting the evening with singing into the amped hole of his guitar – reverberating vocal yet never twirling his twirlable moustache though still indicating a set of evil delights. Well, evil if expressing love for a chicken called Jackie.

Starting with Lorenz, a clearly talented musician/performer who played on Smither’s latest album, his one-man instrumental set-up packed a punch, mainly percussive, with beats on his seat-suitcase, a high-hat, a pot and a circular-saw blade. 

With plenty of volume on the guitar and some effects, we were treated to cool slide and pulsing riff-rock as well as gentler acoustic songcraft. Lorenz is also a fine vocalist and has lines in setting his background and personal proclivities that engage as much as the music. The blues informed plenty of his playing, and a distinctive element of his act is throat-singing, inspired by a South Indian cooking class. He also gave us a sax solo via pursed lips. As I typed the above I have been listening to his latest album Pile Driver which is superb in capturing the live element of his playing with over-dubs and extras. What a treat and pleasure to be introduced to this musical artist – you can get Pile Driver here [Why So Brief? is a glorious, sweet blues]. 

The third time I have had the privilege of seeing Smither play live, this evening’s set was, as I have said, ruminative and illustrative, one narrative most insightful and honest about his songwriting process, leading into a gorgeous performance of Down to the Sound, that background story informing the lyric perfectly for its moment. Indeed, the live performance accentuates Smither’s lyrical talents, whether political – he did refer to ‘agent orange’ but also lamented, on our behalf, the current British political scene – or songs about love, those performed being quite affecting. On writing songs Smither refers to their transition through [or not] incoherence, but that seems an exaggeration when following the often poetic flows or even more social-commentary lines, though in Down to the Sound he sings ‘There’s no notion of order, it’s hard to arrange’ and that’s a writer’s/lyricist’s perspective on struggle and crafting.

Matt Lorenz accompanied Smither on a few numbers, with Chris asking him ‘you’re not going to do any of that weird shit, are you?’ It was a fond joke. They started off with a lovely play of By the Numbers, one of my favourites from Smither’s latest Call Me Lucky, a duet with a Lorenz whistle on Everything on Top, and also combined on another fav from that latest, She Said She Said. This was personally so pleasing.

Other songs Smither played from CML was the album’s opener The Blame’s on Me, the satirical Nobody Home, and a minor key cover of Chuck Berry’s hit Maybellene which Smither had explained as a typical approach to performing another’s song. It is a transforming take on a hot-rod song with a plaintive foregrounding of the lament in the lyric’s questioning.

A wonderful night, and if you can, do go to one of the following gigs, details here.

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