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Live Review: Ryan Adams with Natalie Prass at the Rialto Theatre, Tucson, AZ – 21st April 2015

 
By on Tuesday, 28th April 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

During my tenure here at TGTF, I’ve twice been able to attend the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, TX, and probably the best part of that experience has been discovering new artists that I might otherwise never have heard. Last Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to follow up on one of my new finds from SXSW 2015, as American singer/songwriter Natalie Prass opened for veteran rocker Ryan Adams at Tucson’s Rialto Theatre.

I had never attended a show at this venue before, but neither of the artists on the bill was a stranger to the Rialto stage. Adams had graced the stage previously in 2008 with his band The Cardinals and Prass appeared here as Jenny Lewis’ keyboard player last year. Adams and Prass have spent the first part of 2015 touring together through Europe and the UK as well as in America, and they have grown comfortable enough to play a few cheeky covers of each other’s songs during the current tour cycle. Adams even donned a full costume and filled in for Prass when flight delays caused her to miss their show in Copenhagen in March.

I saw Prass’ set at Maggie Mae’s on a whim at SXSW 2015 a couple of weeks after that ill-fated Copenhagen show, and I was excited to see her opening set at the Rialto, but as fate would have it, she faced a similarly challenging situation in Tucson on the night. After playing her first song in solo fashion, Prass related to the audience that her band had gotten stuck on the road with bus trouble. She did, however, have a few friends on hand who were able to step in. Keyboard player Daniel Clarke, who also played keys on Prass’ self-titled debut solo album, came onto the stage to accompany her, and he was soon joined by the other members of Adams’ touring band, including “Spaceman Adams” himself on the drum kit. Prass said that they had been cramming on the bus, listening to her record in order to learn the parts. If that was truly the case, they did their jobs admirably, playing a nearly seamless set that allowed Prass’ sultry singing voice and country-noir songwriting craftsmanship to take center stage.

For Adams’ headline set, he stage was decorated with vintage arcade game and vending machines, along with symbolic representations of Adams’ previous album titles, including a stuffed tiger for ‘Easy Tiger’, a glass smoke machine for ‘Ashes & Fire’, and an American flag for ‘Gold’. His current self-titled solo album, number ten in his extensive discography, was presumably represented by the man himself, and he opened with its hit single ‘Gimme Something Good’. I was familiar with this track already, having heard it on the radio here in America, and while the guitar riff is hot on the recording, it doesn’t even hold a candle to the scorching impact it makes in live performance. While Adams’ older tracks have a more alt-country flavour, his guitar skills leave no doubt about the rock aspect of his music, and the most effective tracks in the set list were the ones where Adams let loose with amazing guitar solos.

Surprisingly, Adams didn’t play as many songs from his new album as I expected, but he touched on it most notably with the slow burning ‘Kim’. He played through most of the show without any banter between songs, which allowed his songs to do the talking, and up to that point I was completely mesmerised. When Adams did finally stop to chat and catch his breath, he wryly taunted the crowd for taking photos and watching the show through their smartphones, which I must admit did register a slight pang of guilt in the back of my mind. On a more good-humoured note, he also pointed out a woman wearing her sunglasses inside the dark venue, speculating that she was either hiding tears after Prass’ lovelorn set or that she was possibly high. This led to a lengthy tangent about eating boxed macaroni and cheese seasoned with instant onion soup; I’ll leave you to imagine how those things might be related.

Getting back to the music, Adams responded to a shouted request from the crowd by playing a thrash metal number I didn’t recognize. The song was received with great applause, and I found out later that it was a version of ’16 Days’, from Adams’ former band Whiskeytown. For my money, Adams’ decision to stay on stage and play straight through the set rather than taking the obligatory encore break was most welcome, and he wisely took advantage of Prass’ presence on the tour by bringing her back to the stage for vocals on ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ and ‘When the Stars Go Blue’. At the end of the night, after having forgotten to introduce the aforementioned Daniel Clarke as part of the band, Adams proceeded to invent an entire song centered around Clarke while the other band members gamely jammed along.

I came away from the show with a slew of new songs buzzing through my head, and I stopped at the merch table outside to pick up both Adams’ and Prass’ latest CDs. I was already a fan of Natalie Prass after her charming SXSW performance, and she didn’t disappoint in Tucson, even with her somewhat impromptu band arrangement. I was only a casual fan of Ryan Adams previously, having listened to his songs in passing on the radio and after hearing other artists such as The Young Folk name him as an influence on their songwriting. I was impressed enough to amass a collection of his music during my road trip to Los Angeles the following weekend, and his 2001 album ‘Gold’ became a fast favourite on the long drive home through the desert. Better late to the game than never!

 

SXSW 2015: Thursday night adventures with artists both familiar and new – 19th March 2015

 
By on Tuesday, 7th April 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

The Thursday night of SXSW 2015 turned out to be a mixed bag for me, as it was one of those evenings when things didn’t exactly go according to plan. In the end, all was well that ended well, and I came away feeling satisfied with the way the night played out.

After my jaunt over to the Driskill Hotel where I saw the enchanting singer/songwriter Josh Savage and caught up with him for a brief chat, I hurried back to the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30, which was by now beginning to feel like a second home. I turned up there for the Ben Sherman / UKTI showcase just in time to see Dry the River begin their set, though the venue was so crowded that I had a hard time finding a good vantage point to watch them from.

Dry the River at British Music Embassy 19 March 2015

Unlike their curtailed set at the Transgressive Records showcase on the Tuesday night, Dry the River played in their full band arrangement here, and their songs were well-received by the crowd. The plaintive tunes and delicate harmonies I had heard from the band at Buffalo Billiards were transformed here into dynamic, hard-edged rock anthems, though I was pleased to hear that their folk sensibilities weren’t entirely obliterated by the increased size of their sound. When the band reached the end of its allotted time, there were a few vain cries for more from the front of the stage, an outcome that brought a smile to my face and was surely more satisfactory for Dry the River as well.

Dry the River at British Music Embassy 19 March 2015

Next on the set list at the British Music Embassy was a band who are of at least peripheral interest to us here at TGTF, namely Black Rivers. Principal Black Rivers members Jez and Andy Williams were (are?) part of Manchester trio Doves, whose track ‘There Goes the Fear’ gave this Web site its name. Appearing here with a full four-piece set up, Black Rivers appeared to have some problems in their brief soundcheck, in the end playing only four songs once their set actually started. Even so, we heard enough of their heavily rhythmic, guitar-laden sound to permanently distinguish the Williams’ new project from their former band.

Black Rivers at British Music Embassy 19 March 2015

At the end of Black Rivers’ set, I beelined out of Latitude 30 and made a mad dash to the Mohawk, hoping to catch American folk-soul singer Matthew E. White. I arrived at the venue with time to spare, but unfortunately for me, so had a long queue of other hopeful punters, and I was left to listen to the faraway strains of White’s recent single ‘Rock & Roll is Cold’ from the sidewalk outside.

At this point, I had a few backup options to consider. The Dodos at Cheer Up Charlie’s? Frank Turner at the Red 7 Patio? Both were tempting, but I’d just seen them the day before, and I was in the mood for something new. I consulted the handy SXSW GO app on my smartphone to see what else was going on around downtown and almost immediately hit on a winner. Natalie Prass, another American singer/songwriter and a Spacebomb Records labelmate of Matthew E. White, was playing in the cozy downstairs venue at Maggie Mae’s. As luck would have it, I had time for a leisurely walk to Maggie Mae’s before Prass was scheduled to begin at midnight, and I happened to walk past Cheer Up Charlie’s while The Dodos were playing ‘Competition’, sounding as fresh as when I’d heard them on Wednesday’s Dine Alone Records showcase.

Natalie Prass at Maggie Mae's 19 March 2015

I arrived early at Maggie Mae’s and found the downstairs venue nearly empty, though it filled in quickly after I had positioned myself in front of the stage. Starting her set from a seated position at the keyboard, Prass slowly drew in her audience with a sultry mix of torch-song romanticism and blues-rock grit. She kept her short set lively throughout, alternately flirting with her admiring crowd and showing off her admirable guitar chops. But I was most impressed with the clear tone and finely-tuned inflections of her singing voice, which reminded me very much of alt-country singer Caitlin Rose. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Prass’ left-handed bass player, pictured below, who plays his instrument upside down in the style of Jimi Hendrix. After my impromptu stop at Maggie Mae’s, I’ll be certain to arrive early to another gig later this month at the Rialto Theatre in Tucson, where Prass is scheduled to open for Ryan Adams.

Natalie Prass' left-handed bass player at SXSW 2015

I said a quick hello to Prass as she packed up her gear from the stage, then I headed down 6th Street to Esther’s Follies, a familiar venue from last year where I’d caught Gabby Young and Cocos Lovers. This year I aimed to see an equally lively band that I’ve always liked on recording but had never seen live, Washington, DC trio Jukebox the Ghost. Their latest self-titled album is rife with the band’s signature upbeat melodious pop and simple lyrics that are by turns quirky and thought-provoking. Their set at Esther’s Follies was equally ebullient and idiosyncratic, featuring new songs ‘Sound of a Broken Heart and ‘The Great Unknown’ among older crowd favourites like ‘Oh, Emily’ from 2012 LP ‘Safe Travels’.

Jukebox the Ghost at Esther's Follies 19 March 2015

The enthusiastic crowd gathered at Esther’s Follies on the night were clearly fans of the band, engaging them with shouted requests and one-liners and laughing at a few inside jokes that I must admit I didn’t understand. But the punters around me didn’t seem to mind my unfamiliarity; in fact, they encouraged me to put down my camera and dance. I happily obliged and was soon grinning from ear-to-ear at Jukebox the Ghost’s zany stage antics and their infectiously peppy performance. Unfortunately they ended their set without playing my personal favourite of their tracks, ‘Adulthood’, because co-lead singer Ben Thornewill was losing his voice. But fear not, I won’t disappoint my readers the same way; you can stream the audio for ‘Adulthood’ just below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/fQpgHvAYGNY[/youtube]

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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