Slaid Cleaves at Gateshead Town Hall
Gateshead Old Town Hall
Tonight Slaid Cleaves was the smartest I’ve ever seen him on stage; dressed in his sports jacket, slacks and cowboy boots but he still looked like his mother had dressed him.
His sartorial dress sense apart Slaid is one of the finest performers, songwriters and interpreters of song on the American Folk circuit at the moment and on stage he beams like a beacon in the fog of mediocrity.
There was no support act and no introduction so Slaid just wandered on stage with an embarrassed smile and plugged his ancient Gibson into the speakers and started with Hard to Believe from 2009’s much under-rated EVEERYTHING YOU OWN album. The applause had hardly started when he launched into his ‘signature’ tune Horseshoe Lounge. I first heard this song on a free CD that came with Uncut magazine and I had to rush out the same day to buy the album it came from; BROKE DOWN! I’ve been a fan ever since.
Slaid looked genuinely humbled by the noisy applause and then told us how pleased he was to be playing in this magnificent venue as the stage itself was larger than some of the halls he normally plays in.
Slaid hasn’t had the worst of lives but its easy to tell he’s still had a ‘bit of a life’ with many of his songs being about old cars, drinking in unseemly bars, hanging out at racetracks and generally being part of the crowd his wife’s mother warned her against and his songs reflect that lifestyle.
Where do I start with the track list? Slaid decided early on to take requests and it proved misguided as just about everyone in the large hall called out different titles. He went on to play two spots – 50 minutes and 75 minutes and he could have done the same for three nights on the bounce with entirely different set lists and still not pleased everyone. But; much to the delight of the packed audience he played his other ‘signature’ song Broke Down quite early into the set; but the loudest applause came for the 8 minute audience participation ‘folk opus’ Breakfast in Hell with the mass grunted ‘Ugh – Aggh’ chorus and one of my all time favourite songs Lydia.
For those who don’t know, Lydia is a timeless song about a widow who loses her son and husband in a coal mining accident. It always goes down well in the NE of England and I presume other mining communities but, as Slaid himself said, Lydia has taken on an added poignancy on this tour following the recent losses of life in Gleision in Wales and Kellingly in Yorkshire, meaning that the sniffles were nearly as loud as the applause at the end.
Apart from that, we also heard Black t-shirt, Horses, New Years Day, Wishbones and Bring It On which all benefit from Cleaves’s laid back style and storytelling as he makes the mundane sound powerful and a little bit romantic.
Tonight I was closer to the stage than usual and it was astonishing to see the expressions and tics that cross his face as he forces out the more potent lyrics as if he’s living the actual story and it can pain him to re-tell the darker tales.
As an example, on tonight’s version of Karen Posten’s Flowered Dresses it felt as if the singer actually inhabited the soul of the broken hearted woman in the song; which is a clever trick for an all out American Boy.
There’s a lot more I can say about this concert; but you’ll just have to buy his latest dbl Live CD – SORROW & SMOKE to see if I’m exaggerating or telling the truth.