Ron Sexsmith plus special guests Ben Watt and Sam Palladio
Tuesday 30th June 2015
Royal Festival Hall, London, United Kingdom
On what probably one of the hottest days of the year in the UK, I travelled to the iconic Southbank Centre near Waterloo station to see the last night of Ron Sexsmith’s summer UK tour which included an appearance at Glastonbury Festival. Now I had already heard his new album ‘Carousel One’ and the review is on the website to read. Now Sexsmith is very much ‘the songwriter’s songwriter’ with admiration from performers such as Elvis Costello, Sir Paul McCartney and Ray Davies. I don’t rely on other people to tell me what I should and shouldn’t like but surely all these legendary artists wouldn’t support him if they didn’t think he had something special going for him.
Anyway, after I tried and failed to purchase some merchandise (the guy and the desk wouldn’t accept a card and I couldn’t find an ATM nearby) I went to my seat whilst some people were trying to solve a dilemma; ‘If ISIS said they would donate £2000 pounds to your sponsored charity walk would you take the money or would you decline it and say you don’t agree with their ideology?’ Now I’m all for constructive political/current affairs discussions and we all should be allowed an opinion/free speech but I found myself thinking ‘Yes because that’s the dilemma the world is facing right now. Charity donations.’ I forgot about their meaningless conversation and began studying the cardboard cut-outs on the stage; a laundromat, a luggage carousel and a large dog. The set design was simple but effective because it referenced his 14th studio album release in quite a subtle way.
The lights went done and the first special guest Sam Palladio appeared. Now you may have heard that name before or read it in a magazine and are wondering ‘Where is he from? Is he in Casualty? Has he been in the news?’ Well Sam Palladio is an actor/singer/ and musician from Cornwall who is probably best known for his role as Gunnar Scott in the hit ABC television series ‘Nashville’. He threw a beautiful black guitar over his shoulder and opened with ‘Fade Into You’ with such ease. Now, as he has been heavily involved with ‘Nashville’ he has spent a lot of his time in Nashville, Tennessee so it’s really no surprise that he has picked up a bit of an accent. It worked so well as his tone was very much like Johnny Cash especially on ‘If I Didn’t Know Better’ which has some fantastic lyrics.
‘Heading for the Fire’ was a vocal highlight as it was just full of emotion and ‘Wake Me Up in Nashville’ was the first song Palladio had written three years ago. From this track alone I knew that this guy has a phenomenal songwriting talent and I can see radio absolutely loving this track. ‘Has anyone here heard of Nashville? Well it’s on Wednesday nights at 10 on E4!’ He could be forgiven for this plug as he treated us to ‘Open Your Eyes’ from the third series which was just beautifully sung with just an acoustic guitar. Closing with ‘Lighting Bolt’ I thought ‘I hope this guy releases an album.’ He was confident on stage and he had a strong setlist. Sam Palladio is definitely someone you should try and check out.
After a quick changeover the next guest Ben Watt walked onstage accompanied by an electric guitarist called Bernard Butler. Watt started with an acoustic guitar whilst Butler opted for a red Gibson for ‘This Could Be Real’. It sounded quite summery and they both played off each other really well. Then Ben Watt moved over to the keyboards for ‘Forget’. I had actually heard the song on BBC Radio 2 a few months ago and thought it was well-written but didn’t know who it was. He had a roadie called John who appeared onstage after Ben asked for him to come and help find a tuner for his guitar. We sat waiting for him to get ready and then he went to an electric guitar for ‘Women’s Company’. Now as he sang about how he enjoyed being in the women’s company, I was trying to decipher the song’s meaning; did he mean growing up surrounded by female influences or was he referring to ‘women’s company’ in a ‘romantic’ sense. Whatever it was I wasn’t that impressed due to the formulaic sound and stationary lyrics. When played ‘At the Door at Winter’s Eve’ I was convinced that he was trying to cool us down with the thoughts of snow and rain. (Or maybe his phone calendar is having issues). When I got home my dad explained to me that Ben Watt was part of a group called Everything but the Girl, suffice to say being twenty one years old I’d never heard of this band so I admit I only had this performance to base anything on. I felt it went on a bit too long for a support set though which is a shame as I genuinely liked the earlier tracks and think he could’ve made more of an impact if he hadn’t stretched it out unnecessarily. I then realised that he was trying to be like Chris Rea in terms of tone and vocal delivery and for me, he wasn’t succeeding.
At five to nine the lights were dimmed again and Canadian Ron Sexsmith appeared with a four-piece band in tow. ‘Sun’s Coming Out’, from his new album was well-received by this sold-out London crowd. ‘Imaginary Friends’ featured some really fluid drumming from Don Kerr who has performed with Sexsmith since 1987and he approached the songs like a duck to water. The theme was quite dark as it addressed the situation when your imaginary friends leave you creating a period of isolation and sadness. A highlight was ‘Getaway Car’ with Dave Matheson on keyboards as it was one of the few tracks that had a lively kick. It was definitely Beatles-esque and I could picture Sir Paul McCartney attempting to record it for a new album release. Ron then went onto explain that his debut album release was in its 20th anniversary in this year and songs from that would certainly feature in the show. ‘Strawberry Blonde’ was very tongue in cheek as he sang ‘She wasn’t the girl next door but the one round the corner’.
The track ‘St Bernard’ is about a photograph of dog that Ron has in his possession and that was the explanation for our canine cardboard friend on the stage. This was my favourite song on the new album when I wrote my review and I have to say the live version supersedes the studio version for me as the lyrics seem a bit more heartfelt in a concert hall setting. ‘Words We Never Used’ had a slight Irish folk vibe that was pleasant but it was when the band walked offstage for Ron to perform a solo acoustic version of ‘Sneak Out the Backdoor’ which seemed quite metaphorical to me. I respect his versatility as a performer as he is able to switch between solo and live band without issue. Fan favourites such as ‘Speaking with the Angel’ (written for his son when he was two months old) and ‘Gold in Them Hills’ were met with delight from the audience and it felt like you were in a songwriting masterclass.
‘Nothing Feels the Same Anymore’ was inspired by the late singer-songwriter Phoebe Snow (her signature song was ‘Poetry Man’) and it was beautifully played. ‘Lucky Penny’ included a rich keyboard solo and Matheson and Sexsmith just played off each other. ‘Get In Line’ had light brushes on the drums and other band members Kevin Lacroix (guitar) and Jason Mercer (bass) also did the songs justice
‘This song was covered by Michael Bublé. But this is how it is meant to be done!’ he quipped as he went into ‘Whatever It Takes’ which is definitely one of his gems in his extensive catalogue. The energy of the band was high and Sexsmith’s vocals were sombre.
Coming back for the encore Sexsmith tickled the ivories once more for ‘Brandy Alexander’ which he had written with Feist and released himself for his 2008 album ‘Exit Strategy to the Soul’. In an interesting twist, his band appeared with Sam Palladio and sang the song’s harmonies with such tender vocal delivery. You could hear a pin drop in the Royal Festival Hall during the performance. The encore song choice was really smart I felt as it allowed the band to show their vocal talents alongside their instrument skills.
In conclusion, Ron Sexsmith is very talented when it comes to writing and recording material and his work is entertaining but at the same time thought provoking. However, at times I felt like he was quite uncomfortable on stage and I think that he maybe doesn’t feel at home when tours his material around the world. I am glad that I have finally seen him live and his band are incredible musicians but unless you are a long-term fan this show it would not have entirely floated your boat.
Ron Sexsmith’s new album ‘Carousel One’ is out now on Cooking Vinyl. To coincide with the release, Ron Sexsmith will be touring the UK extensively in 2015 at the following venues:
Sunday 11th October- Glee Club, Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom https://www.glee.co.uk/live-music/
Monday 12th October- Glee Club, Nottingham, United Kingdom https://www.glee.co.uk/live-music/
Tuesday 13th October- The Memorial Hall, Sheffield, United Kingdom http://www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk/events/Ron-Sexsmith
Thursday 15th October- Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/ron-sexsmith-edinburgh-15-10-2015/event/36004EC5C8DB8E98
Friday 16th October- Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, United Kingdom
Saturday 17th October- Pocklington Arts Centre, Pocklington, United Kingdom http://www.pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk/shows+on/17-10-2015
Sunday 18th October- The Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, United Kingdom http://thetradesclub.com/events/ron-sexsmith
Tuesday 20th October- Epstein Theatre, Liverpool, United Kingdom http://www.epsteinliverpool.co.uk/whats-on/ron-sexsmith.aspx
Wednesday 21st October- Glee Club, Birmingham, United Kingdom https://www.glee.co.uk/live-music/
Thursday 22nd October- Junction 2, Cambridge, United Kingdom http://www.junction.co.uk/ron-sexsmith
Monday 26th October- Komedia, Brighton, United Kingdom http://www.komedia.co.uk/brighton/all-events/
Tuesday 27th October- St Mary’s Church, Ashford, United Kingdom http://revelationstmarys.co.uk/whats-on/ron-sexsmith-support/
For more information visit: www.ronsexsmith.com
(Many thanks to Kieran White for the photo gallery which accompanies this review and Cathy Hendrix for helping us with both the live review and Ron Sexsmith’s 20 Questions.)