(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Live Review: Lewis Watson with Alicia Rae at U Street Music Hall, Washington DC – 14th November 2014

By on Monday, 17th November 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

With a chilly temperature hovering around 0 degrees after the sun had set last Friday, you’d think a DC gigging crowd wouldn’t show up until doors had opened at the U Street Music Hall. But you would be wrong. However, to the fans that braved the cold to be sure they’d be as close to the front of the stage as possible, the draw for the night was entirely worth.

But before we get that, let’s talk about the opener, shall we? After a while, the young, adorable singer/songwriter women of the world start to blur together in my mind. Unless I’m mistaken – or maybe I’m just not going to the right shows? – there aren’t that many of them in my neck of the woods making waves. Alicia Rae is from Waldorf, Maryland (pretty much only known as the birthplace of Good Charlotte) and is a relative newcomer to the scene. Having only gone professional a few short years ago, she is like the evening’s headliner: entirely self-taught. Her track ‘Autumn’, appropriate for this time of year, has already been played thousands of times on Spotify.

For this audience that consisted mostly of teenage girls who heart One Direction, she hit the spot with her tearjerk-y but inescapably simplistic songs about life and love, sung in a fittingly sweet voice. She explained she wrote ‘Hideaway’ while a tornado threatened outside her window; she thanked her dad for the inspirational phrase “1-2-3 forever” for another tune. ‘Sweet Melody’, the title track from her forthcoming EP scheduled to be out in 2015, can be downloaded for free from Rae’s Web site.

I have to give full credit to our David Wriglesworth for tipping Lewis Watson and recommending me to have a listen to his music. As many of you know, the singer/songwriter genre isn’t my favourite: the idea of someone dredging up old heartbreaks for art usually bores me to tears. Get on with your life already! So it takes a very special act to truly get my attention. The first and admittedly unfair thing most critics will notice about Lewis Watson is his age. But forget that he’s 22: what you will glean from the Oxfordshire native’s debut album ‘The Morning’ released this summer on major Warner Music is that his songwriting is not only emotional but entirely sincere. (If you have any question about this sincerity, read David’s q&a with Watson posted last week.)

This may be coloured somewhat by the fact that the young man is still completely humbled by the overwhelming reception he gets from fans at his shows, which includes this short first headline tour of North America this month. He better get used to it: I always wear earplugs to gigs but my word, I needed them with the amount of screaming and shouts of “I love you!” that went on between the songs. I bring up the word ‘humble’ because last month, he and his band had visa issues, which necessitated a postponement of the entire string of dates and some venue changes. Instead of blaming the American embassy in London or anyone else, he took to his old friend YouTube to record a video for his fans to personally relay his regrets for the delay. What really got me was when he specifically apologised for moving the DC area date from Jammin’ Java in northern Virginia to U Street Music Hall in downtown Washington, saying that he’d “been assured it’s only a half-hour drive away” and he hoped people would be able to make it to the new show. He wouldn’t have known that most people come into the city for shows all the time and Jammin’ Java is an outlier whose listings only represent a small percentage of our area’s gigs, but the fact that he went the extra mile to personally apologise for the change melted my heart.

He apologised again for the venue change at the show Friday night and also for the fact that he only had his bespectacled keyboardist and backing vocalist Roxanne with him. Endearingly, he implored the audience at times to imagine a full band behind him, with drum flourishes and the like, saying he was sorry that the rest of his crew couldn’t make. To be honest, he didn’t really need them and I feel like it was a special treat to witness this stripped back set that allowed his songwriting talent and the beautiful timbres of his voice to really shine. I mean, after all, aren’t all singer/songwriters’ songs initially conceived with only acoustic guitar and voice anyway?

Shrieks and sighs of delight from punters punctuated the start and finish to every one of his songs, which led him to smile bashfully but broadly in appreciation. Describing Los Angeles as “a really weird place” where he wrote the aptly titled ‘LA Song’ made the crowd laugh at his Englishness; his appreciation for grape soda (“we don’t have this in England!”) and twist top bottles in America was met with similar amusement. Hey, if you got it (and your fans love the fact you’re English), flaunt it.

The place went hushed and quiet as a tomb for a gorgeous unplugged version of ‘Halo’, presented by Lewis and Roxanne up on the edge of the front of the stage. That was a clear standout, as was a surprising cover of Everything Everything‘s ‘The Peaks’, which he prefaced by saying how much their debut album ‘Man Alive’ meant to him, and that everyone in the audience should check them out. (Good man.) Watson explained the wistfully regretful ‘Ghost’ was written shortly after he’d been friendzoned, and really, who of us haven’t be there, am I right? We also were treated to the dark yet remarkably gorgeous new song ‘When the Water Meets the Mountains’, which Watson described as the desire of spending the last moments of life before the apocalypse in joyful recognition with the one you love. Pretty heavy subject matter, yet brilliantly done.

In just this one song, he demonstrated his ability to present genuine feelings yet with the confines of pop sensibility. David reckons he could be the next Ed Sheeran; I’ve never been a fan of Sheeran’s so if I’m honest, I hope Watson’s sincerity takes him even further than him. I’m looking forward to seeing Watson’s reception in Austin at next year’s SXSW.

After the cut: Lewis Watson’s set list.

Lewis Watson Set List:
Sink or Swim
Stones Around the Sun
LA Song
Castle Street
Windows
Halo (unplugged)
Holding On
Stay
Ghost
The Peaks (Everything Everything cover)
When the Water Meets the Mountains
Into the Wild
//
Made Up Love Song #43 (unplugged Guillemots cover)

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[…] met Lewis 2 months ago when he played a show in Washington and he was just the sweetest guy! But because of an enormous queue of fans wanting to say hi and […]

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