Live Review: Nick Mulvey at Gateshead Sage – 27th October 2014

By on Wednesday, 5th November 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

As a music writer it’s very easy to get sucked into some sort of hyper-critical vortex of opinionation, with the poor musician at its centre but paradoxically just a bit-part player, the catalyst for the writer’s real agenda. So it was with my last review of the perfectly serviceable Jon Allen, and so it will be again this week with the discussion of Nick Mulvey.

It’s always a rather curve-ball start to the evening by being kept waiting so long for the press ticket to be found that one entirely misses the support act. Suffice to say that if Sivu is as good live as his album, I very much regret that I didn’t get to see him play. Not that I’d have actually seen much of him – the seat that this review was written from was the worst in the house, actually behind the stage, on a balcony of such restricted view that even though I watched him play for more than an hour, I had no idea what Nick Mulvey actually looked like. Until I got up from my cheap seat and moved around a bit. Ha – screw you, Sage Gateshead. In a bizarre puritanical flourish, I am informed that my 5-quid plastic cup of beer isn’t permitted on the upper levels of the Sage Hall 2. So this review was written without the reflective assistance of an alcoholic beverage – until I cracked open my hip flask. Ha – screw you, Sage Gateshead*. Finally, no photo pass can be “found”, which means this review is unaccompanied by the usual high-quality photography. So I took some with my iPhone. Ha – screw you, Sage Gateshead**.

You might expect the negative tone to influence the review of Mulvey himself, but you’d be wrong. How dare you, dear reader, question this writer’s professional integrity? For it turns out that Mulvey is a purveyor of delicately robust songs with just the right amount of virtuoso playing, traditional songwriting chops, avant-garde arrangements, and plain simple funkiness, that tonight’s performance is truly a beautiful thing to behold. The audience are largely converts, with a surprising number being capable of mouthing along to a surprising number of songs. He’s clearly popular with the ladies, particularly those well-dressed ones in their late 20s and early 30s (which make up the majority of the crowd), perhaps nurturing a fantasy that they could get to know the lithe, bearded Mr Mulvey a little better than a brief encounter at the merch stand might allow.

With Mulvey promoting his Mercury-nominated début ‘First Mind’, tonight’s show is a run-through of said collection’s salient parts, which is to say, pretty much all of it. Mulvey is an accomplished finger-style nylon-string player, his unusual, percussive technique rich with African influences. ‘April’ is an appropriately atmospheric start, with its flamenco-style picking and obscure percussion. Non-album track ‘House of Saint Give Me’ is a surprise addition, but it’s not until ‘Meet Me There’ that the crowd really start to get enthusiastic, and you know from that point Mulvey’s got them in the palm of his hand. The band’s pretty good, too: there’s loads of synth squelches, an electric upright bass and a girl on percussive noises. There’s also a hang, a nod to Mulvey’s previous life in Portico Quartet, although it only gets an outing on the very last song.

Highlights? Pretty much all of it, but the undulating rhythm of ‘Juramidam’ and its lucked harmonics are distinctive and funky, ‘Fever to the Form”s familiarity works in its favour, and the set-climaxing ‘Nitrous’, incorporating as it does Olive’s ‘You’re Not Alone’, is both familiar and novel, providing a comforting circularity to climax the gig. Live, Mulvey brings life to what is perhaps a modestly cerebral record, adding funkiness and power where on record it is delicacy and rumination. On this showing, he has a rare ability to connect with an audience, and manages to walk that fine line between populism and credibility with ease.

8/10

* I’d be quite prepared to take some sort of manual handling test to prove that I am capable of taking a drink into the first floor balcony of an auditorium without spilling it on the performers below. What say you, Sage Gateshead? I demand a drinking test!

** The Sage is a superb venue, world-class in every respect, except in its rock ‘n’ roll attitude, for which it scores nothing out of ten. If they are on a mission to remove every element of decadence, to reduce the act of gig-going to a sober, well-dressed, well-behaved act of expensive self-flagellation, they couldn’t be doing a better job.

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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.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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