IT’S tricky to get a handle on exactly what stage Withered Hand’s career is at when you see him play in Edinburgh, for Dan Willson’s home ground is nothing if not partisan.
Liquid Room, Edinburgh
Star Rating: * * * *
But whether or not his local popularity – and his familiarity with the Fence crowd which has given much of the Scottish east coast’s guitar scene its direction in recent years – will help him find a broader national audience with this year’s second album New Gods (a kind-of spoonerism of the last one, Good News), there’s certainly a sense he’s on the crest of a wave right now.
This show, decently-sized and well-attended, was evidence that he won’t be short of a local crowd any time soon, at least. The atmosphere was boisterous and celebratory, in no small part because of Willson’s own stage persona, an amplified version of himself which fuses wilting self-deprecation with a worldly emotional range.
His spoken back-and-forth with the crowd might have grated from another artist in other circumstances, but there’s something about the thinly-bearded Willson which says he’d rather not be put on a pedestal.
Up to seven performers surrounded him, including two horn players, a violinist, backing singer Pam Berry and prolific Edinburgh drummer Alun Thomas, creating a sound which was at once almost orchestral in range, yet folksy and DIY – the perfect complement to Willson’s voice, both affectingly yearning and sparsely raw.
“I thought I would play Cornflake,” he joked to cheers as he returned alone for the encore, “as a punishment!” A few minutes later, as the joyous full-band stomp of Heart Heart rang to a close, we would say it had been anything but.
Seen on 17.04.14