Richmond Fontaine at Cluny I Newcastle
The Cluny, Newcastle September 23rd
Following the hate mail I received last year for giving Richmond Fontaine’s POSTCARDS FROM PORTLAND CD a less than positive reviewin Maverick magazine; I vowed to see them when they next visited the UK.
When I arrived at the venue there was already a large crowd patiently snaking through the bar waiting for the concert room to open. Once inside very few made their way to the bar as they took up residency in front of the stage like star struck teenagers. They didn’t have long to wait as Laura Gibson soon made her appearance alongside a multi-instrumentalist drummer. For reference purposes Ms Gibson has a very pleasant voice but her twee prog-folk which was full of slightly experimental sounds from an assortment of instruments was totally lost on me. Even the appearance of Dan Eccles from Richmond Fontaine on lap-steel guitar failed to ignite any passion in the music.
There was a short break before Richmond Fontaine made their appearance to a raucous reception from their adoring fans.
Without any introductions Amy Boone from the Damnations ‘talked’ the opening minimalist song, Inventory which was greeted with a huge roar as it ended.
With very little repartee the band went on to perform the whole album in all it’s glory. Now; with the best will in the world the ‘concept’ of THE HIGH COUNTRY – a young couple trying to break away from their bleak existence in a logging community; is best described as challenging; but to present it in full in one sitting during the first week of release was a brave decision, if not downright foolhardy.
I for one was left nonplussed by the quiet/quiet noisy/noisy, quiet/quiet approach that I last heard 15 years ago when my son force fed me Nirvana. The response to each individual track from the reverential audience appeared to wane as the night wore on; especially for the quieter songs and the numerous idiosyncratic instrumentals; so I don’t think it was just me with a feeling of disappointment.
I can’t complain about the musicianship of the individuals on the stage; Dan Eccles was quite spectacular on guitar and lap steel while Sean Oldham’s drumming was impressive and bass player Dave Harding put his heart and soul into a performance that owed more to American Punk band, the Replacements than Hank Williams.
Singer and rhythm guitarist Willy Vlautin’s laconic throaty drawl is well suited to Alt-Country but I wasn’t convinced that his heart was in this performance; but that could just have been the gloomy choice of material confusing me.
When they had completed THE HIGH COUNTRY the band left the stage to partake of some well needed liquid refreshment and returned in higher spirits to play 45 minutes of ‘songs from our career….that WE like.’
Another interesting concept I thought; even if it left some members of the audience slightly bewildered. Obviously these songs were recognised by the fans and the reception that they were given; especially the noisier ones like Winners Casino and the noisefest 1968 was genuinely heartfelt. But; as a bystander I was struck by the lack of real enthusiasm from the audience; it was if they had blind faith in Willy Vlautin to entertain them.
The following day I tried to describe the concert to a friend and eventually coined a new genre – Alt.Grunge.
this review first appeared in Maverick magazine www.maverick-country.com
more photos at www.harrisonaphotos.co.uk