As musical pedigree Ethan Johns rolls into town on his record store tour Getintothis’ Howard Doupé dares to be in the presence.
To say this gig has drawn a little attention in advance would be putting it mildly. 81 Renshaw has done it again at attracting another top draw attraction to its humble dwelling. Multi-instrumentalist and producer extraordinaire Ethan Johns and The Black Eyed Dogs have taken a slightly different approach to the promotion of his latest release, Anamnesis with a tour of record stores.
Offering support tonight was no stranger to these parts, Robert Vincent. Taking to the stage as a four piece band the night starts with intent to what seems like the majority of the sold out crowd, here early doors. Drawing on material from his last release, this years UK Americana Album of the Year award winning I’ll Make the Most of My Sins, Vincent’s opening song prowls and stalks the ears- complete with blistering slide guitar solo. This is a unique blend of scouse-filtered blues.
Mid-set we get the reminder that cheeky scousers are in the house tonight- a shout for Delilah is met with ‘ahh c’mon it’s a bit early…’ in a typically witty response to the jibes. Good ol’ scouse banter is live n well. The mood is light and the tunes just glide. Quality songsmith on display, worthy of the role tonight.
The introduction of a double bass and lap steel to the mix, reminding us of Astral Weeks era Van Morrison complimented with luscious three-part harmonies that cut through the rising heat in the place.
Jokingly forgetting verses to new tracks that even the keyboardist confesses to not even hearing before, ‘this is the type of band I run’ claims Vincent. The gag comes good numerous times tonight with all the band geggin’ in. There are tales from visits to Nashville in the form of the graceful Dancing With Devils and a revealing of his Dads birthday, spirits remain high right throughout the set.
On to Johns who’s tonight accompanied by two-parts of The Black Eyed Dogs in the form of bassist Nick Pini and violinist Georgia Leach. Opening with Runaway Train followed by Ruskin’s Farthing and a wee tale about the inspiration behind the song. With a big nod to Dylan, Johns songs treat us to a beautiful slice of Blood on the Tracks as if it was written right here. The trio keep the vibes light and freewheeling.
It’s refreshing to hear the craft of song writing being heralded, respected and acknowledged. The tales flow and the lifetime love affair with this thing called music flows from every tune this evening.
All the classic references are there. The familiar quips and delivery of many, many classic songsmiths from the years. Johns is a musical magpie who heeds the lessons set out by those who’ve come before with attentive detail, spinning moulding and re-packaging in his own presentation. 81 Renshaw really presents the perfect setting for this gig. Intimate but bustling at the back, which filters through enough to give life to the room yet respect down the front.
It’s with the introduction of some looped tabla on 21st Century Paranoid Blues that we’re transported on this journey Johns is leading us along. Track after track there’s a feeling of natural flow, choices being made about where the voyage will go, approval confirmed by the flanked musicians as the set plays out. Like the admittance to a lack of setlist only welcomes shout outs for songs- Six and Nine from 2015’s Silver Liner gladly delivered.
More is delivered from the current release. Couldn’t Let Go has the crowd listening for the pin drop. As the night goes on that ‘just can’t put your finger on it’ mysticism is shattered- Johns lets the secret slip ‘we haven’t played any real sad songs tonight’. Maybe he has unknowingly been baptised in Liverpool’s over-powering and all-encompassing love and positive vibes!
It’s quite the pass-the-parcel unravelling task to get to the core of who Johns is and what he’s trying to convey. At times the ideas patch-worked together are clever and engaging but more often there’s this feeling that the ‘Jack of all trades’ is in fact… The magician wields his wand with ease and prowess- this is the spellbinding wizardry on display tonight.
Photos by Getintothis’ Chris Flack