Friday, October 18, 2013

Live Review: RM Hubbert, The Cluny 2, Newcastle (09/10/2013)

Let's face it, plenty of artists can put on a great live show. The ones worth getting excited about are those who turn in the types of memorable, life-affirming performances which epitomise why we follow music. Only a select few, however, are capable of  retaining that wonderment from night to night; staggering with each fresh appearance no matter their exposure or familiarity. Over the past year or so, I've come to realise RM Hubbert is one of those gems. I've seen him four times during that period, and although the initial 'wow' factor has dissipated , the sheer awe of sharing a room while he plays his music remains as strong as ever. You know more or less what you're going to get, but that does nothing to dull its effect - a phenomenon once more evident at The Cluny 2, the final stop on his biggest UK trek yet.

Long tours are, needless to say, made easier with the addition of fine support, and with friend and local staple Richard Dawson also appearing on the bill, this date certainly had that. With new LP The Glass Trunk attracting endorsement from national outlets, the Newcastle resident is reaping rewards from the hours he spent sourcing its materials in the Tyne & Wear Museums and Archives. As thrilling and assertive as ever, this outing came to a head with the standalone cry of 'Poor Old Horse,' a sparse interpretation of a traditional tale that's already entrenched as a firm crowd favourite.

Opening for such a distinguished performer is an unforgiving task, and although Dawson did a brilliant job (most wouldn't even warrant a mention in comparison!) there was never any question of the headliner being eclipsed. A uniquely intimate, heartwrenching and yet uplifting experience, Hubbert's stage shows are defined not only by his magnificent flemenco pieces, but also the endearingly open backstorys which precede them; a routine that's become familiar, yet lost none of its captivating emotional impact. Most of tonight's audience, for instance, will already have known the Glaswegian suffers from chronic depression, that he uses music - and live gigs in particular - as a form of therapy, and that 'For Joe' acts as an opportunity to recall his late father-in-law, but for reasons unexplainable these truths and the majestic compositions which depict them remain as beguiling as ever.

It does, of course, help he now has a stunning new album in Breaks & Bone to draw from, and as expected it was fresh material, along with choice cuts from last year's SAY Award-winning Thirteen Lost & Found which made up the night's setlist. After the usual improvised opening and run through 'Switches Part 2,' his stay gathered momentum with the ominous bass string stomp of 'Go Slowly,' which was bettered only by a relatively upbeat 'Buckstacy' among purely instrumental songs. At the opposite end of the scale, his bleak, yearning rendition of traditional standard 'The False Bride' remains virtually impossible to digest without nursing a lump in your throat, while the percussive snap of 'Bolt' provided a welcome short, sharp shock amid such dense subject matter.

It sounds like hard going (and at times, it is), but the pleasure comes not only from such sampling incredible music, but also knowing you're providing immeasurable aid for the man with the talent to produce it. The therapy is clearly working. Indeed, if recent interviews are to be believed, the guitarist mightn't require 'the whole RM Hubbert thing' much longer, and come such a time would have no problem whatsoever walking away. For fans and newcomers alike, the message could not be clearer: catch him while you can. It'll probably cost you less than a tenner, you'll more than likely be blown away, and you may not get many more chances. Do it.


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