Music review: Steve Earle, Kelvingrove, Glasgow

Steve Earle. Picture: Getty

Steve Earle. Picture: Getty

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STEVE Earle in solo performance has the commanding presence of a mountain man, with a genial but no-nonsense approach – “Turn that damn thing off,” he quickly remarked of the fog machine that was blowing desultory clouds across the stage.

Steve Earle

Kelvingrove Bandstand, Glasgow

****

As he approaches 60, his voice ranges from gravelly holler to moments of growly intimacy, and it was this warmer side, rather than his songs of political declamatory or social outrage, which occupied much of a nevertheless persuasive set, which met with an ecstatic response from the audience packing the newly refurbished Kelvingrove Bandstand.

They’d had to wait long enough. The gates opened, as billed, just after six, and the verdant surroundings and fine evening saw Glasgow living up to its “Dear Green Place” label, which was just as well, as Earle’s set didn’t start until 8:45pm, the rest of the time occupied by western-inclined muzak over the PA and an opening set from Glasgow singer Monica Queen and guitarist and collaborator Johnnie Smillie.

Earle kicked off in low-key but heartfelt mode, with a recent song about “A girl on a mountain I once knew”, following it up with the grainy melancholy of My Old Friend the Blues. There were, too, the small-town laments of Someday and Taneytown, before returning to a big, gruff, honest-to-goodness love song, Every Part of Me.

Earle is almost two decades clean of his heroin addiction, he told us, referencing some of the lower ebbs of his life with a pairing of the ragtime-y South Nashville Blues with the raw confessional of Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain.

There was much anticipatory applause as he uncased his mandolin and, after some electronic hiccups, launched into the jaunty civil war swagger of Dixieland and his hugely popular Galway Girl. By this time dancers were congregating in front of the stage, though they had to contain themselves as his pensive muse returned for God is God – “the kind of song you write when you’re 55 or 60,” he grinned.

The by now mandatory but still powerfully-delivered epic of Copperhead Road brought the audience to its feet, but for an encore he delivered his heartfelt vision for Middle East peace, Jerusalem, explaining that he was about to fly to Israel to perform with peace activists from both sides: “Because I don’t believe in hopeless cases or lost causes.”

JIM GILCHRIST

Seen on 07.08.14

Ludus Baroque: Handel’s Athalia

St John’s Kirk, Perth

****

HANDEL oratorios have come alive in recent decades as those who perform them have wised up to the fact these fast-action Biblical settings are as theatrical and emotionally thrilling as any of his best operas.

Take Athalia, which Ludus Baroque performed in Perth this week. The heroine, a mad woman who tried to kill off the Jewish line of Kings so she could rule Judah herself and turn its people to idolatrous worship, unfortunately omitted to eradicate the young Joas, the rightful heir to the throne, who’s image in a dream sends Athalia over the top and to a vengeful death.

Ludus Baroque – augmented by choirs from Perth, and with its lively period instrument orchestra and vivid line-up of soloists under the the direction Robert Neville-Towle – edited the action with sensitive cuts, but lost none of the vim and verve that gave this rare performance its stylish, fast-paced charisma.

There was no lingering or hiatus, as each recit, aria or chorus flowed into the next like a series of absorbing operatic scenes. The solo team were collectively distinctive, the thrustful soprano Anna Dennis as Athalia, exhilarating tenor Ed Lyon, the more reflective, occasionally indistinct, countertenor Andrew Radley and agile baritone William Berger foremost among them.

Neville-Towle drew spritely, articulate singing from his choir in choruses that provided glorious climactic comment. The odd rough moment seemed not to matter in the unrelenting excitement and dramatic intent of this engaging performance.

KEN WALTON

Seen on 06.08.14

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