Gateshead Old Town Hall
January 20th 2012
It doesn’t seem 5 minutes since Tom Russell was playing the exact same venue to about 100 people and tonight was a complete sell-out which bode well for Roots music in the North East.
With no support act Russell ambled on stage on stage all in black with a snugly scarf a Fedora at a jaunty angle and baffled the crowd with a rendition of Dylan’s Just Like a Woman. Afterwards he explained that Dylan’s influence runs through his latest album MESABI before recounting the day he met the great man who wanted ‘directions to the nearest liquor store!’
Tom then evoked a Dick Van Dyke ‘cockernee’ accent to introduce Lonesome Death of Ukulele Ike and Farewell Neverland as they are both based on memories from watching Disney films as a child and ‘that’s how English people spoke (speak?)’ which caused the first outbreak of giggling.
Russell’s songs and stage demeanour are quite serious and deadpan but, just like Leonard Cohen there is always a wicked dry sense of humour hidden in the shadows if you care to look for it.
As he says himself “Russell appears to have a split personality’ but I guess that’s what makes geniuses stand out from the crowd.
The backbone of material tonight was predominantly Tex-Mex flavoured Country-Folk as usual but that does the songs a great disservice as they are all clever with twists and turns with subject varying from Elizabeth Taylors love life to the Biafran war, illegal gambling and tales of cowboys on the Western plain and each one is believable and beautiful in its own right.
With that in mind the highlight of the evening was a shouted request from the back of the Old Town Hall. I wasn’t aware of Blue Wing before tonight but hunted it down the following morning; as Thad Beckman’s dazzling guitar breaks and Russell’s clever lyrics sent shivers down my spine.
This was followed with another one of his older songs, Muhammad Ali which was treat as a Birthday song for the great man’s 70th Birthday followed by The Pugilist at 59.
What else can I say? Tom Russell is finally getting the sales and glowing reviews that his fine body of work has deserved for many years.
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