Seasoned troubadour Josh Rouse rolls into Liverpool’s Black-E and injects a veritable feast of good vibes – albeit quietly.
‘It’s been sometime since we were in Liverpool,’ Nebraska-born Josh Rouse tells the gathering throng in the Great George Street Black-E.
‘The last time I was here, I didn’t see much. I got off the plane walked straight to the venue, played the show, went back to my hotel and left the next morning. To tell you the truth, this time is shaping up much the same… Oh, the life of a troubadour.‘
Yes, indeed, for 14 years this son of Midwest military man has roamed the earth spinning vignettes of love and loss, triumph and failure – yet for someone so engrained in lyrical tales of personal strife, Rouse displays little of the characteristic ragged glory you associate with the wounded beast that is the singer-songwriter.
You’d imagine dirty threads and tousled facial hair, but Rouse is a dapper, and somewhat chipper chap – dressed in waistcoat, red tie and short, well-groomed, lacquered hair. More Steve Davis than Steve Earle.
And his melodic song palette rarely deviates from the quietly upbeat.
Flanked by his Long Vacations – Xema Fuertes (guitar and percussion) and Caio Bellveser (bass) – Rouse exudes an understated bliss with most tracks ushered in allowing the crowd to be suckered into his grasp before unravelling into a flurry of exotic rhythms and exquisite harmonies.
A case in point is Saturday, taken from his 2005 album Nashville, Rouse almost whispers his verses; strained necks and girls sashay closer to the lip of the stage, lapping up every hushed word before the three musicians combine in a volley of falsetto.
Bellveser provides most of the fun – a hybrid of Woody Allen and Saved By The Bell‘s Screech – his facial expressions veer from hernia-induced strains to constipated grimaces all while thrumming his fretboard with the lightest of touch.
Proving that there’s more than delicate lullabies in his armoury, Digging in the Sand showcases a afrobeat shimmy akin to Graceland and it’s on these numbers that Fuertes, switching from toms to plucked guitar, comes into his own as the whole band combine to bring a touch of tropicalia to the Black-E.
Talking of which, the old Congregational Chapel isn’t just an addition to Liverpool’s music scene – it’s a sure-fire cracker. With it’s spiral staircase, old blackened stone and high walled, three-tiered almost-jail-house charm Getintothis hasn’t experienced a better venue of this size for sometime.
Mid-set the Vibrations depart, allowing Rouse to perch behind the drum kit, reach for harmonica and semi-acoustic and ramp up the intimacy further with a trio of tracks including Sparrows Over Birmingham from his breakthrough 2003 album 1972.
He repeats the trick during the encore and almost as if it’s been scripted the mic cuts out during Sad Eyes leaving Rouse to mouth the words as the entire room joins in unison to sing the track back to him. The effect is little short of breathtaking.
He closes with signature ‘hit’ Love Vibration and for once the gentility of the crowd threatens to burst into party mode – but in keeping with Rouse, and the occasion – the air stays quietly upbeat leaving him to drift off into the darkness – job done, just another cracking night in the life of the troubadour.
Picture by Bill Mitchell.