Thursday, 21 August 2014

Withered Hand with Friends: Adam Stafford and Samantha Crain

The Queen's Hall Edinburgh - 21 August 2014

I am way overdue on writing this, almost 2 weeks ago I was looking forward to Withered Hand and Friends. Here is what I can remember:

Withered Hand

This was my second time seeing Dan Willson and his band. First time was in a really small venue, The Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh, and it was a wonderful gig so I was really looking forward to this one in the slightly larger Queen's Hall.

Withered Hand

Despite there being two good support acts (see below) and Withered Hand having quite a following, the venue was only half full. I was really surprised, but perhaps this is the fate of bands performing during the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe? So many venues, so many shows.

I have subsequently learned that perhaps part of the reason for the limited attendance was the lack of prior notification. Dan is notorious for his lack of attention to detail, and neglected to publicise the concert to any great degree, only remembering to promote the gig through his email mailing list the day before.

The event was attended by many members of the Scottish indie "scene", including King Creosote (Kenny Anderson) and members of Frightened Rabbit, and despite the lack of notice, a lively disparate crowd of all ages turned up.

This was the fourth year in a row that Withered Hand had performed at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall at the tail end of the Festival. “Here we are again,” Willson announces. “Of the larger shows that I've played, it’s one of my favourite venues because it still feels quite intimate - it’s lovely. They start to get pretty soulless, once they’re big. The Queen’s Hall doesn't feel like that, it’s a cool place.”

Things got off to a cracking start with Horseshoe from the New Gods album, but Dan lost the lyrics about midway through and demanded that the band begin the song again. The enthusiastic crowd clapped and (perhaps ironically) cheered the balls-up. “Don’t clap! Don't f**king clap!” he chastised the smiling crowd.

Horseshoe was not the last song to mess up, and as is customary it seems, Dan has a load of lyrics written on his arm, and refers to them every now and then in ostentatious fashion, much to the crowd's delight.

The sound was great from where I was standing, but I was close enough to hear the stage monitors as well as the main speaker rig. I heard some fans complaining that the sound was a bit muddy from the back, and they couldn't hear certain instruments.  

There was a good mix of songs from both New Gods and the previous album 
Good News, and a really good cover of Charles Latham’s ‘Hard On’ which I had not heard them perform live before.

Willson was swapping banter with the audience members and the rest of the band throughout, and obviously enjoying himself as much as the crowd were enjoying the gig.

A rousing version of Heart Heart completed the first set, and the band went off for drinks of tea or something - but only for a minute or so. Dan came back alone to perform Cornflake solo (while most of the band members looked on from among the audience at the side of the stage) - this was a beautiful version of the song.

Rest of band back on the stage, they went on to give us really glorious versions of New Gods, Hard On and Not Alone - though there were a couple of re-start moments in there too, much to Dan's chagrin and the audience's delight.

A good gig, and although not quite as slick as last time, still very enjoyable.

Black Tambourine
I Am Nothing
New Dawn
Love over desire
King of Hollywood

Love In The Time of Ecstasy
Fall Apart
Religious Songs

Between True Love and Ruin
Heart Heart

Cornflake (solo) 
New Gods 
Hard On (Charles Latham cover)
Not Alone

Adam Stafford

Adam opened the proceedings, looking every inch the vulnerable accountant in his suit trousers, shirt and skinny tie. I'd only heard a handful of his songs (via YouTube) in the few days before the concert, after the full line-up had been announced - and I had been quite impressed with what I had heard. For the uninitiated, Adam Stafford info can be found here.

Adam Stafford

He uses layered vocals and guitar loops to great effect, setting up rhythm (both guitar and vocal) with melodic hooks as he goes - no pre-recorded stuff here, it's all live, well recorded live, while you watch and listen. The overall impression and sound was of a full band playing. 

Many of songs in the set were from his recent album, Imaginary Walls Collapse - including Vanishing Tanks and Shot Down Summer Wannabees. He also aired one new track which was as yet untitled, but he announced as "This is a new one, so it’ll probably be shite!

He also told a great story, about the last time he was in the Queen's Hall, back in 2007 when Donovan and David Lynch were promoting the benefits of transcendental meditation.  They had just proposed that regular group meditation can influence whole cities or countries - making them peaceful or "invincible", when some young kid stood up and asked "How do you know this stuff?" The TM gurus were unable to answer!

He finished up with His Acres

I enjoyed his whole set, and he was really well received by the crowd. I suspect Adam will have won many new fans from this performance.

Samantha Crain

Samantha Crain was up next. From Oklahoma, small in height, and elfin in face, she greeted the crowd confidently clutching her acoustic guitar. As with Adam Stafford, I had listened to some of her music in advance of the concert, and was looking forward to hearing her live.

Samantha Crain
Her voice was sweet, and her lyrics sharp - a kind of Sheryl Crow/Melanie crossover. She is also an accomplished guitar player as demonstrated on Teaspoon In The Morning.

Samantha told some good stories while guitar tuning between numbers ("Heaven would be 20 ready tuned guitars setup behind me", she said) about the inspiration for certain songs, and the lyrics for others e.g. Somewhere All the Time was inspired by the film Convoy, For The Miner is a Jason Molina tribute, and Devils in Boston was actually about New York but it didn't scan :-)

A beautiful set, and well received. If you see she is performing near you, go and see her, you won't be disappointed.

Santa Fe
Somewhere All the Time
Elk City
Devils in Boston (actually New York but it didn't fit)
Never Going Back? (not sure about this title)
Songs In The Night
Teaspoon In The Morning (guitar picking)
For The Miner (Jason Molina tribute)

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