Jonathan Wilson is a lone figure on stage this evening, usually he plays with a band but for this tour he has chosen to explore smaller venues and has abandoned the complex layers of sound produced by the additional players in favour of a stripped back version of his music. Considering the calibre of artists he has worked with, both as a musician and producer, he enters in an understated manner with his hair tied back and mirrored shades hiding his eyes. A drum machine lays down the beat for Loving You, and as he takes to the microphone a tranquillity descends over the audience. Wilson’s vocals have a serene warmth that flow throughout the room and epitomize the Laurel Canyon scene in which he has been involved for so long.
After a brief interaction with the audience, Wilson swaps to an acoustic guitar for the title track of his latest album, Rare Birds. I was cautious about the translation of his songs without a band, as the dynamics and interplay between the differing instruments play such a critical part, however, this simple acoustic interpretation allowed for the listener to approach them as new tracks. Gentle Spirit is a truly mesmerising performance, which demonstrates Wilson’s song writing skills at their finest with the genius compatibility of melody and lyrics all presented with a laid back ease.
Throughout the set, Jonathan willingly engages with the audience noting that his last performance in Birmingham was at the Moseley Folk Festival and his love of a Capri-Sun, illustrating his humorous side. As Gentle Spirit exposes Wilson’s song writing strengths, Living With Myself allows him to evidence his guitar prowess to its fullest. Jonathan Wilson does not confine his solo show to the guitar, he moves to the keyboard offering “manly time and cuddles” as he begins Sunset Blvd yet not happy with the beginning, he halts the song and ponders aloud WD40 for a while before returning to the song.
Sticking with his latest album and at the keyboards, he uses he Cromar to produce a reverberating sound to start Me before returning to the more conventional piano vibe playing a fairly simplistic yet effective chord pattern that allows for the vocals to take prominence and produce a wondrous atmosphere. A return to his first album for Desert Raven, sees Wilson return to the electric guitar, utilising a loop pedal to add depth to the sound with subtlety proving his utter competency to those watching in awe. The obligatory mention of Sabbath is followed by Jonathan noting how enjoyable it is to play without a set list, however when someone requests Cecil Taylor he suggests that it is unlikely due to the complex tuning required and the limited number of instruments he has brought on tour with him, so clearly he is choosing from a predetermined selection.
Over The Midnight allows the musician to maximise his use of dynamics, at one point abandoning the guitar in favour of a pure solitary vocal line. The set continues to stick with the Rare Birds album with the upbeat There’s A Light and a return to the keyboards for the sexually explicit yet heart wrenchingly romantic 49 Hairflips. We are then treated to a track called 69 Corvette, from his newly mastered album, a song about his family but predominately his father. As with every song that has gone before, there is a relaxed ease that permeates all aspects of the piece and an esoteric ambience about it. However, it is hard to say what it will sound like with a whole band but it bodes well from the first listen. Moses Pain is the only track presented from the Fanfare album, which is a shame but understandable as the emphasis is firmly on Rare Birds and after Trafalgar Square including jokes about Latitude festival and sick beats, the finale is the Valley Of The Silver Moon on electric guitar.
Wilson doesn’t entertain the possibility of an encore and he has no need to as he has delivered a delightfully comprehensive and atmospheric set that has held the audience’s attention from start to finish. Certainly, one of the finest gigs I have seen at the Hare and is quite possibly the concert of the year so far purely for the musicianship and the humour which caught me unawares.
Review: Toni Woodward