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Tuesday, 24 October 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Justin Currie & The Pallbearers

Justin Currie & The Pallbearers, Les Johnson And Me, The Globe Cardiff

If the concept of nihilism was a human being it would probably be Justin Currie, the man is all consumed by a bitter self depreciation that comes through in all of his work no matter how jovial it is musically, the lyrical content ranges between morose, incensed and utterly hopeless. Previously known as the lead singer of 90's band Del Amitri, (you know that band that did that song you've heard on the radio) Currie semi-retried the band and struck out on his own, since then he has been writing and performing the music he wants, it's not really to satisfy anyone but himself, the honesty and broken heart-on-sleeve appeal of the music really makes his live performances (or Parades as he calls them) something to behold.

Last time he played Cardiff it was a solo show in The Gate, a superb venue that was an ideal showcase for Currie to play the guitar, the piano and yet again relive the heartache and pain of his songwriting. His stage banter is kept to a minimum, he's an aloof, passive aggressive figure who seems to feel most comfortable on stage. This time Currie had moved down the road to The Globe and on this tour he had brought his new band called The Pallbearer's, three experienced equally serious looking dudes all clad in black and dangerously proficient at their instruments.

We made our way into the venue and took our place at the provided seating (I currently have a very bad back so standing for more than about 20 mins is not an option), happily the seats provided us an unrestricted view of the show, the promise of a support act was interesting and got even more exciting when the lanky solitary figure took to the stage. Kenny MacDonald's Country music project has the name Les Johnson And Me, it's a very neat concept of him delivering songs by the late musician Les Johnson who was clearly a very talented Country music writer. Songs such as 15 Hands are imbued with the spirit of Nashville and impeccably played by MacDonald who has the imposing looks of Bill Drago (The Untouchables) and the commanding deep bass voice that sits between Nick Cave and Johnny Cash.

There was a magic over most of the audience (with a few not being able to shut the hell up) as we got swept away with the troubadour country music unfolding. There was beauty in it's simplicity and by the end of the set we were won over by both the songs, the performance and the humility of the man, I hope that Les Johnson And Me does more shows outside of his native Scotland as for an opening act this was very high calibre. 8/10

Had Justin Currie decided to play a solo show here it would be tough competition between him and his support act however the decision to bring a full band with him was an inspired one, as it saw the songs take on new life. Tracks that started out as acoustic renditions morphed into full blown blues rock epics with massive drum lines, fluid Mark Knofler-esque lead guitar playing. Opening the set with the staggering duo of My Name Is God and This Is My Kingdom Now you can feel the difference in style with the full band these songs jump out at you like rock epics, the dark lyrics and tone only bolstered by the full band situation. All of his solo songs were reinterpreted into the band format Hey Polly and Not So Sentimental coming as early diamonds.

Then in the middle of the set it was time for some of the music of his former band we got the slinky Just Like A Man (which was eaten up by the two women on the left of stage), the bittersweet This Side Of The Morning and Tell Her This from the Del Amitri days. The Del Amitri songs were kept pretty faithful to the originals, the small detour concluding with a one man rendition of Always The Last To Know which was ably sung back at Justin by the Welsh crowd. The Del Amitri stuff got the louder reception and recognition from the audience but I think he had a lot more scope to experiment with his solo recordings, take At Home Inside Of Me which was a fiercely heavy and ominous, letting Currie smash away at the keyboard while Stuart Nisbet fluidly soloed, turning the song into a wild and reckless number The Who could have written in their pomp.

As the main set wrapped up two more Del Amitir songs in the shape of Move Away Jimmy Blue and the beautiful Driving With The Breaks On set the course for the finale of I Love The Sea, which became a mini prog epic full of time changes, powerful organ, finger-style bass playing and impressive slide guitar. A short changeover and they came back on stage for the encore of My Soul Is Stolen which morphed into a country stomp through of Kiss This Thing Goodbye and the emotion inducing Be My Downfall. Eyes dabbed and composure regained the final song of the night was the atmospheric stream of consciousness, rallying cry of No Surrender. With a final piano chord the band finished bowed and swiftly made their way to dressing room engaging in no chit chat along the way. A measured, professional and breathtaking performance from a man who always seems to relish his relative obscurity, it means less of the human race he has to interact with and allows him to play whatever he damn well pleases. 10/10 

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