Shawn Smith @ The Sunflower Lounge, 16th May 2017

shawn smith

Not appreciating how early the stage times would be for this Shawn Smith gig, I missed both support acts, BlackCar and Jellicoe Wins.  However, upon my arrival at the venue there was a substantial amount of positive talk regarding BlackCar, the moniker for Dan Glendining formerly the lead singer of Headswim, so I will be exploring his solo work over the next couple of weeks.

I love the intimate nature of The Sunflower Lounge. It is so compact that it requires the artists to enter the stage by making their way through the middle of the audience; an entrance that Shawn Smith makes unapologetically even if he is twenty minutes later than the schedule. His demeanour commands silence as he takes to the electric piano and begins with Brothers And Sisters from the Brad album, Welcome To Discovery Park.  Smith is the creative force behind a number of influential Seattle bands including Satchel, Pigeonhed and Brad and as soon as he opens his mouth you understand why. Smith’s vocal range is vast with a delicate strength that he exploits throughout the set to convey the fragility of life, a theme that emanates through his lyrics.

Smith is incredibly comfortable with the exposed nature of a solo performance, laughing at himself when he makes mistakes or raising an eyebrow if he misses a note, all of which enhances the experience. Being a solo performer allows Shawn the freedom to experiment with timings and song structures to enrich the sentimentality of the music which is evident with the second song in. Screen, from Brad’s first album Shame. This sees Smith fully engage with the audience encouraging them to sing along towards the end when he returns to the pinnacle of the track which he repeats. Considering he has only been on stage for five minutes, Shawn Smith has connected wholeheartedly with the crowd and is taking us with him on a journey through an array of his and other people’s music.

Smith has the ability to create an informal space that makes you feel you are a participant in a phenomenal rehearsal rather than observing a formal gig, by chatting casually with the audience during and between songs.  For the majority of the set, Smith is seated at the piano and, with the stage being so low, you can appreciate the simplistic nature of much of his playing that doesn’t cloud or overpower the elegance of the songs. Halfway through, Shawn moves to play the acoustic guitar and starts a cover version of Prince’s Sometimes It Snows In April, however, this is hindered initially by tuning issues. Rather than get flustered or carry on regardless, Smith takes his time to make certain that the tuning is accurate claiming “There isn’t any point if it’s not right, right?” and produces a beautifully mournful tribute to one of his idols. Returning to the piano and his own work, the mood is elevated with the uplifting The Day Brings and the spine tingling Suffering that sees Smith’s vocal power utilized to its full capacity. He draws the main set to a close by returning to opening track from the first Brad album, Buttercup, which is met with a gratified response.

As expected, Smith invites the audience to join in with the refrain and the offer is met with utter enthusiasm.  All too soon, Shawn Smith is exiting the stage through the crowd who politely part to allow him to reach the backstage area temporarily. After a shout of encouragement for more applause, Smith returns to the stage with a bass player and drummer who assist him on the second Prince cover, this time we are treated to Purple Rain which then end segues into the lyrics of Mother Love Bone’s Crown Of Thorns before a dynamic return to Purple Rain.  This finale epitomizes everything that has gone before; an agonizingly tender rendition that encapsulates an emotive power that is visibly affecting those in the room. It still amazes me how Shawn Smith is not more widely recognized for his proficiency at song writing and performance, yet, selfishly, it allows me to continue seeing him in small venues which is definitely a tremendous experience and one I hope to repeat soon.


Reviewer: Toni Woodward

Photograph courtesy of PR.

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