Live Review: Foy Vance with Ryan McMullan at Valley Bar, Phoenix, AZ, 24th June 2015

By on Wednesday, 1st July 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Last Wednesday night found me once again westbound on Interstate 10 to Phoenix, this time to see Northern Irish singer/songwriter Foy Vance at the downtown Valley Bar. I was headed to a new venue, but the road was familiar and so was the headline artist, whom I’d seen twice before, once in the cozy Washington DC area venue Jammin’ Java and once in a rather uncomfortable stadium-sized atmosphere in Atlanta, where he opened for Ed Sheeran.  Vance spent May and early June this year again gracing American stages with the ginger-haired pop phenom, parting company with his friend and colleague to headline a handful of dates across the southern half of the U.S. before heading back across the pond. Phoenix was fortunate enough to host one of these more intimate shows, with Vance accompanied by fellow Northern Irish singer Ryan McMullan.

Ryan2

McMullan’s Ulster accent was immediately apparent as he introduced himself to the small Valley Bar crowd, but over the course of his set, we were regaled with songs of a decidedly American inclination. He engaged us immediately with opening track ‘Listen’ from his soulful blues rock-flavoured EP of the same title. McMullan interspersed the four tracks from that EP with his appealing debut single ‘Mary’, a peppy cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ and a rather quaint traditional American Creole song called ‘The Lakes of Pontchartrain’, most famously recorded by Northern Irish traditional folk musician Paul Brady.  In the fashion of a more seasoned performer, McMullan saved his most impressive moment for last, giving a scorching performance of ‘Holding Me Down’, which in live performance smashed through the relative restraint of the studio version below.

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

And then, after a brief interlude, the Valley Bar congregation were ready to receive the gospel according to Foy Vance. Taking his position behind the pulpit, er, piano, Vance quickly made himself comfortable and began not to sing but instead to speak. Before diving headlong into a set of new songs, Vance asked us to keep our phones and cameras put away, both so that we could enjoy being in the present moment with him and to avoid having “shit versions” of the new songs going up on YouTube before they could be properly recorded and released. I cringed internally, because this request always strikes me as overly precious, no matter how many times I hear it.

However, on this particular night, in this particular setting, Vance genuinely practised what he preached, quite literally losing himself in a seamless sequence of five opening tracks, including four new songs and the already popular anthem ‘Closed Hand, Full of Friends’. Among the new songs were a gorgeous ode to the city of London and a blistering blues guitar number played later in the show, both of which have enormous potential for a possible future studio recording.

Foy bow

Speaking of the guitar, Vance switched instruments and gears for the second half of the show, picking up the pace with a few familiar tunes from his 2013 album ‘Joy of Nothing’, as well as recent hit ‘Make It Rain’ and a track from his 2007 LP ‘Hope’ called ‘Doesn’t Take a Whole Day’, which turned out to be among the more charming moments in the set. Not content with his own array of songs, Vance also burned through a mind-boggling run of covers late in the show, including Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’, Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’ and a version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’ that can be best described as orgasmic. While Vance’s younger Ed Sheeran-influenced fans might have lost interest at this point in the show, for those of us who recognized the original songs, Vance’s display of musical prowess here was nothing short of spectacular.

Rather than insisting on a proper encore, Vance took only a brief moment off stage before declaring to eager applause, “I want to keep playing, shall we just get on with it?” As the clock approached midnight, Vance wrapped up the evening with ‘At Least My Heart Was Open’ and the by now customary singalong ‘Guiding Light’, which saw McMullan reappear for a brief cameo before the flock of Foy Vance faithful reluctantly called it a night.

Guiding Light

Foy Vance will play the Barn on the Farm Festival in Gloucester on the 4th of July and Ireland’s Indiependence Music Festival in Cork on the 2nd of August. He will support Ed Sheeran at Wembley Stadium on the 10th of July as well as joining Sheeran’s Australian tour in November and December. While in Australia, Vance will also play a support slot for Elton John in Brisbane on the 8th of December. You can find a complete list of live dates and ticket information on Vance’s official Web site.

Previous TGTF coverage of Foy Vance can be found right back here.

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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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