Live Review: Foy Vance with Rams’ Pocket Radio at Jammin’ Java, Vienna, VA – 9th November 2013

By on Monday, 18th November 2013 at 2:00 pm

Photos by Cheryl Demas

Two weekends ago I had the pleasure of seeing Northern Irish soul singer Foy Vance play Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. However, those of you in the UK and Ireland will be soon be treated to the same pleasure, as Vance begins touring his new album ‘Joy of Nothing’ on your side of the pond.

The Jammin’ Java show was the final gig of the North American leg of Vance’s tour, and the Saturday night audience had the room filled to capacity. True, it’s a small venue, but its intimate size and acoustics are perfect for Vance’s soulful solo style, as opposed to the Tabernacle in Atlanta, where I last saw him open for Ed Sheeran in January. Perhaps it wasn’t the venue that seemed to dwarf Vance on that night, but the other acts on the bill, hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks and the aforementioned ginger headliner. As the main act on the bill at Jammin’ Java, Vance was much more confident and relaxed; he appeared right at home on the small, sparsely equipped stage.

As Vance gained popularity in America on the strength of his opening act for Sheeran, it follows that his new fans would pay special attention to his choice of guests on his own headline tour. In this case, the opening act couldn’t have been more stylistically different from Vance. Fellow Northern Irish musician Peter McCauley, who uses the stage name Rams’ Pocket Radio, makes the kind of electronic synth-driven music that brings to mind old TV episodes of ‘Friends’ with Ross on his tiny Casio keyboard. That’s, of course, if you aren’t familiar with Rams’ Pocket Radio, and I was not.

Rams Pocket Radio Vienna

Once he started playing, I found very quickly that I had made a mistake in not taking a listen to him sooner. His clear, evenly measured melodies and pleasantly modulated singing voice allowed his intriguingly erudite lyrics to capture my attention. (I probably shouldn’t mention the fact that I had to consult a dictionary while reading through the liner notes of his album, ‘Béton’, which I was impressed enough to purchase from the merch table.) His music falls squarely into the dreaded ‘progressive’ category, but I found it to be surprisingly listenable, despite its purposefully streamlined, deliberately minimal aesthetic, partly inspired by the Functionalist industrial designs of Dieter Rams. While most of the songs on Rams’ Pocket Radio’s setlist were accompanied by synthesized drums, Vance came on stage and took drum kit himself at one point, making a minor cameo before his own set began.

When Vance did begin his own set, it was McCauley on the drum kit and Conor McCreanor on bass providing the rhythm section. In contrast to the taut precision of Rams’ Pocket Radio, Vance appeared mellow and relaxed from the outset. He opened with ‘Be the Song’ from 2012 EP ‘Melrose’, but from that point forward focused almost exclusively on songs from ‘Joy of Nothing’, which recently won the inaugural Northern Ireland Music Prize. Eight of the 10 songs on that album appeared on the set list this night, and the audience were clearly familiar with them, especially ‘Janey’ and the anthemic ‘Closed Hand, Full of Friends’.

Foy Vance Vienna

Vance’s relaxed mood quickly carried over to his audience. We were quiet with anticipation at the beginning of the show, but his banter and storytelling ability, no doubt the product of growing up as the son of a preacher, soon warmed our hearts and won our rapt attention. Just over halfway through the set, he made the first of several seamless deviations from his original set list, introducing a new song about his current girlfriend, whom he affectionately described as ‘a keeper’. We obliged his request to keep our cameras in our pockets to avoid having the song appear prematurely on YouTube, but this is definitely a tune to keep your ears open for. Perhaps also owing to the easygoing nature of this final gig, Vance accepted a cheeky request from the front row for an old favorite tune, the poignant masterpiece ‘Indiscriminate Act of Kindness’. He closed the set proper with ‘I Got Love’, a simple, soulful tune with an extended suspension in the bridge that left us literally begging for an encore.

At this point, it has become accepted practice for Vance to finish his shows with the well-known ‘Guiding Light’, which is also the final track on ‘Joy of Nothing’. The song is more of an ‘au revoir’ than a final good-bye, and we wistfully joined in singing the chorus at the end, knowing that our evening was well and truly drawing to a close. In the style of a master performer, Foy Vance left us with warmed hearts and smiling faces, but also with the hope of seeing him perform again in the future.

Catch Vance on his current UK and Irish tour; all the dates are here.

Foy Vance set list Vienna

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4 Responses

2:01 pm
18th November 2013

New post: Live Review: Foy Vance with Rams’ Pocket Radio at Jammin’ Java, Vienna, VA – 9th November 2013:

2:16 pm
18th November 2013

Live Review: Foy Vance @foyvance with @ramspocketradio at Jammin’ Java @jamminjava, Vienna, VA – 9th November 2013:

2:17 pm
18th November 2013

RT @tgtf: Live Review: Foy Vance @foyvance with @ramspocketradio at Jammin’ Java @jamminjava, Vienna, VA – 9th November 2013:…

[…] by SXSW organizers as pop, but based on his opening performance for Foy Vance last year (reviewed here), I’d say his keyboard-based rock is more experimental or progressive than most pop artists. […]

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