Ron Sexsmith – Union Chapel (London, UK 1/25/12)
Ron Sexsmith says that he finds it stressful playing London but he shouldn’t have any worries on that score to judge from the receptions he receives in the city. Doors at 7pm. the ticket read and well before that there was a long queue of people waiting to enter this Victorian Gothic chapel to see him play a solo acoustic show. Since the release last year of “Long Player, Late Bloomer” and the accompanying documentary “Love Shines,” about the making of the album (screened on the BBC) Sexsmith’s star has been in the ascendant and tonight’s show was a sell out.
With somewhere nearing 1000 people seated in the pews and wraparound balcony, Sexsmith, like a preacher entering the pulpit, took the stage with acoustic guitar in hand and proceeded to play a wonderful catalogue of songs, encompassing a 20-year recording career. Although he had a set list in mind, he was open to requests so the song selection included some rarities – “For A Moment and Fallen.” He mentioned that the requests received via his website encourage him to relearn some of his lesser-played songs. That’s great for the audience, especially for his long- time fans who know he isn’t going to be that predictable with his selection. That said there are favourites that do get regular airings – “Strawberry Blonde,” “Secret Heart” and “Gold In Them Hills” but these are ones often shouted for by the audience.
“Hard Bargain” from 2004’s “Retriever” is the title track to Emmylou Harris’ latest and Grammy-nominated album. Sexsmith joked that that would be the closest he’d ever get to a Grammy! Despite his shyness, he has a dry wit and whilst his between song asides are few and far between, his self-deprecating comments are so amusing and just endear him to the crowd even more. At one point with someone having shouted out a request he feigned not to know what was written on his set list and remarked ‘yes there are some good songs on here!’
Early on he explained that he would be playing two sets ‘opening for myself’ and that there would be a costume change between sets – ‘that’s showbiz folks!’ He was true to his word on both counts. The chapel’s acoustics were perfect for his stripped down performance; his voice filled the domed building and he held sway for almost two hours. Rarely does he perform cover songs but tonight, sitting at the piano, he gave a moving tribute to his stepfather by playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Factory” and later, having just participated in the Gerry Rafferty memorial show at Celtic Connections he played the late singer/songwriter’s “Right Down The Line.”
I’ve mentioned Emmylou Harris’ cover of “Hard Bargain” and another of his songs recently covered by a major artist, Michael Buble, ‘no slouch in the record sales department’ is “Whatever it Takes.” It’s heartening to see the wider exposure Sexsmith’s material is receiving after toiling away so long for mainstream success.
His follow up to “Long Players Late Bloomer” has been recorded and he has returned to a producer from the earlier part of his career, Mitchell Froom for the upcoming album. He played a new song called (my guess) “Nowhere” which is very reminiscent of what he does so well – beautifully crafting 3 minute folk/pop songs. He joked that ‘it still wasn’t too late to take it off the album’ and I hope that it was just that – a joke – because it sounded like a keeper to me.
A warm, intimate show with Sexsmith in fine form throughout. London’s love affair with the Canadian shows no sign of waning, in fact quite the opposite. Jela Webb