Jonathan Wilson @ Union Chapel, Islington - 09/06/2016

by EdwardClibbens
EdwardClibbens
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on 14 June 2016 in Live
Rating 8/10

The Union Chapel is the perfect location for almost anything, but it seems particularly well-suited to an acoustic set by the wonderfully referential Jonathan Wilson. Despite being billed as acoustic, there was, mercifully, more than just a mic and acoustic guitar on stage. Backed by a second guitarist, string section and the occasional foray to a grand piano, the multi-layered songs he writes were worthily re-interpreted.

Leaning heavily on material from his generally more stripped-down debut album, Gentle Spirit, Wilson took the chance to showcase his wonderfully soothing voice and the intricacies of his guitar playing. Performing his complex compositions in this context was always going to be a challenge. The highlights of his recordings are often the result of his wonderful band and skills as an electric guitarist and producer. The songs often stretch well over the five minute mark and could rarely be considered straightforward. That he manages so successfully to translate the songs into this limited set-up, whilst losing little of their original charm and keeping them engaging, is the real triumph of the evening.

The most impressive example of this comes in the form of the epic ‘Valley Of The Silver Moon’. A rich, ten minute composition centered around otherworldly sound effects, jazz drums and exuberant guitar solos. Tonight, armed with just two acoustic guitars and two voices, he and Omar Velasco perfectly capture the mysterious mood and guitar indulgence of the original. Comparatively, on ‘Dear Friend’ he tries to stay as close to the original as possible with the aid of his Telecaster and ample guitar pedals. Although this is still an excellent rendition, and arguably his best song, it would’ve been nice to see him dissect the track a little more. With the guitar playing staying so true to form, you do find yourself longing for the rhythm section that makes the song so great.

Away from the array of early material on show, he does tease us with one new track. ‘Rare Birds’ is led by a slide guitar riff and echoes Neil Young’s more psychedelic moments. It certainly bodes well for his new record, which is due next year. Jonathan Wilson’s real skill is his ability to draw on his many, often very obvious, influences and produce something that sounds at once entirely familiar but also fresh and exciting. At no point does he sound like his is ripping anyone off, but simply paying homage to the musicians of the 60s and 70s that have shaped him as a musician. There’s a lot to be said for a musician who can so effectively improve on a design without feeling the need to try and re-invent it.

All in all it was a extremely enjoyable evening. From his quips and anecdotes between songs (you can tell he hangs out with Father John Misty, whose albums he produces) to his mastery as a musician, Jonathan Wilson has got it all. Now let’s hope he’s back with new material and his full band sooner rather than later.

 

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