I was very happy to hear that John Murry was back out on tour to promote his excellent new album A Short History of Decay, and even happier that he'd be playing on a stage that has a Pentagram for him to stand under. It seems kind of appropriate as he keeps trying to chase his devils away.
I arrived early enough to meet some friends who made sure I could sit in the front row at their table which was very cool indeed. On first were Lucas & King, a young duo who really didn't sound anything like I was expecting them to when they first came on.
From the opening song Bo Lucas introduced as being about a Shop Girl they grabbed most of the audience's attention. Bo sounds like a cross between Isobel Monteiro and Hope Sandoval while Hayleigh King's electric guitar sounded like she was trying to find the missing link between Ry Cooder and JJ Cale playing against Bo's strummed acoustic. This might sound like it shouldn't work but, damn, they were great and Shop Girl made me think of my days back in the early 80's as a shop boy, it's a vivid look at life working in a shop all day.
Bo told us that A Room Somewhere was about Brighton and it's pretty much about what might have happened in a small bedsit late at night with deep, raspy suggestive vocals whispering in our ears as well. If it's Brighton it must be Pebble rather than Desert blues that sound-tracked the tale in the song.
They played a song they introduced as being new. Well, the second time they'd played it live and they have an easy rapport between songs. This new one seemed to be about Moon Shadows in your eyes and other late night concerns. It sounded good to me. I'm sure once it's been played a good few times it will sound just fine.
Love Gone Wrong (or just not happened) was dealt with quite bewitchingly on You Couldn't Figure Me Out. That, I guess, the song might have been called as the guitar figures went a little bit close to a mellow Ry Cooder soundtrack vibe.
The best song of the set to my ears was about Why Does My Pain Sound So Sweet? A full-on heartbreak torch song that's peering across an abyss and wondering if they should jump in or not. They closed with the not unsurprisingly rather bluesy I Was Mad For the Blues Not You, which had that kind of Victoria Spivey style wicked dirty glint in its eye.Lucas & King should be seen now while they are still playing small clubs as a duo.
After a very short break as the band are tuning up, they are cheekily playing and adding to the DJ's selections. John Murry looks like he's having fun in his long boots with jeans tucked in and that sort of mean look on his face that breaks into a smirk as he nods to the bands. They start to play The Tracks Of My Tears sounding super funky as it mutates into One Day (You'll Die) which is not a naturally funky subject but that's what makes John's almost muttered and intense vocals work so well as the poetry unfolds and John stomps on all sorts of pedals.
Under A Darker Moon is a song that feels like it has to be heard in a darkened room as the Lap steel and The Hammond Organ real bring the atmosphere to go with the song. Defacing Sunday Bulletins was almost like a centre-piece, spitting bile and anger as things fall apart while still sounding totally together and the band throw musical shards at each other like the couple arguing in the song. The musical battle was every bit as fierce and they could make it.
Silver Or Lead is a dripping-with-despair tale of someone about to meet his maker who was promised he'd be paid in silver but got a chest full of lead instead. That was whipped up to a dark storm of guitars and that meaty Hammond Organ sound. The Wrong man also went a lot funkier than expected as a dark tale on going down the Murder Mile being sung less than a mile or so from where Boadicea tried to murder the Romans all those years ago.
It's time for some proper testifying looking towards that neon Pentagram behind John's head as he sings When God Walks In and for the next three minutes The Slaughtered Lamb becomes Hell's breech which he really ought to be singing in Paddington by the old gates to the pits of Hell. But this is as good as place as any to sing about whether it was suicide or murder, with the music adding tension and taut bursts of effects pedal weirdness from John and the various boxes he was stomping on.
He seemed like John heard me and jumped on the train from Padders out to Reading Jail so he could tell us all about Oscar Wilde. That one was like a woozy blues played by Jim Dickinson in a honky tonk in Memphis.
This is where I confess that when I reviewed the album I had no idea that What Jail is Like was a cover of The Afghan Whigs and I really should do as this version live is just stunning. Such a great song about avoiding jail and your own personal jail. This is also the point in the evening that the band play Musical chairs and all swap instruments to help them sound a little bit more unhinged in the best ways possible.
They get darkly biblical on Miss Magdalene like they are being chased into the woods by a preacher man who is trying to get them to repent for the sins uncovered in the song. That can only be done by his intervention and that's just musically as John sings and mutters at us of his brain being dead and his body's for sale. Yeah we should all chip in and buy a piece.
To start Countess Lola's Blues they start off by opening up with the first couple of lines of Build Me Up Buttercup and a line or two from Abba's Waterloo, played like Captain Beefheart making sing a long pop songs. Yes, we all sing-along to the songs refrain of being all in this together, of course we are and this ends up sounding really upbeat no matter what's happening to the people John's singing about. It really should be the hit of the summer as it's also perfect for the strange times we find ourselves in.
They then set the controls for the heart of distortion for a full on rage through Neil Young's Cortez The Killer before they slow things right down for a darkly bleak version of Little Coloured Balloons; John's almost hit about having an OD in San Francisco and getting resuscitated and other goings on down on Mission Street. A great way to close a brilliant set.
Of course John comes back for an encore and plays a starkly beautiful version of Townes Van Zandt's Waiting Around to Die that's accented in all the right places to feel the passion John throws into it even without all his pedals as he destroyed the set up at the end of Cortez the Killer. This was a cool end to a stunning show. John Murry really needs to be seen on this tour.