Club Oslo, Hackney
When I saw Sam Outlaw for the first time last year he was so impressive.
At King’s Place in London, where we’d gone to see Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, we found that they weren’t the headliners as we’d expected and that Sam had been given top billing.
The displeasure my wife and I felt had evaporated by the end of the first song. Here is a guy with real star quality, a performer with presence, with charisma. Someone whom you found just held your gaze. And he has a decent set of songs.
I’d got the album, Angeleno, after hearing him do a radio session, but initially felt the disc didn’t do him justice and wasn’t as strong as the live performance that had sold me on him. I soon reappraised my feelings after the gig and came to love the disc.
That was last year. As I journeyed to this gig I wondered had he really been that good; had I misremembered and oversold the experience to all those friends to whom I’d sermonised about the excellence of Sam Outlaw?
Circumstances conspired to cause me to miss the support, so when I entered the venue and saw a drum kit and pedal steel I wondered did they belong to the support or was Sam playing with band?
It turned out tonight was a band performance and within a minute any doubts about my memory of Sam’s class evaporated. Kicking off with Who Do You Think You Are? it was clear this was going to be a special night and Sam is, as I had remembered, an absolute natural on the stage.
It was straight in, bursting from the blocks like Usain Bolt in an Olympic final, not a warm up number. Everything is enhanced with the colour, texture and power that the band provided. But unlike Bolt it’s not a single burst of power and instead the energy level is sustained through each and every song and it continued with the intensity of performance of Mo Farah in a 5,000 metre race.
Playing with six musicians as well as regular partner Molly Jenson the gig rocked. The band is made up of bass, drums, electric piano, guitar, pedal steel and violin. Apart from Lydia Luce (violin) the band are British and (sorry guys) I’ve forgotten their names. They are all excellent and you’d think from the standard of interplay with Sam and with each other they were a long-term unit, not gathered for a one-night stand.
David Rawlings once said he felt he wasn’t an accompanist but was part of a band called ‘Gillian Welch’. I think the same principle can be applied to Molly Jenson. Sure, Sam could perform these songs on his own, but Molly is integral to these performances, working as co-guitarist and co-vocalist and is very much part of the band ‘Sam Outlaw’.
So back to the gig: the set is taken mostly from Angeleno but includes songs from the new album Tenderheart. The pace varies but the intensity and high quality of performance and musicianship never falter. New song Trouble was an early standout and another new one Love Her For a While was thing of delicate beauty, performed just as a duo.
Sam’s repartee between songs also suggest that should anything happen to his singing voice a career in stand-up comedy beckons. Sometimes it’s exchanges with Molly, sometimes just straight to us in the audience, but whichever it’s always highly amusing and never sounds contrived or forced.
Highlights are hard to pick out. Inevitably they come from among the familiar, but none of the new songs sounded weak and in years to become some will undoubtedly become stage favourites. Sam suggested that, with the new material, he was veering towards soft-rock, but the country content was there for me. Maybe for the purist it’s too dilute, but I had no worries that Sam Outlaw is about to degenerate into Boston. Anyway to pick my favourites from a smorgasbord of choice I’d say Ghost Town (an obvious selection, I know) and set closer Keep It Interesting are the ones imprinted in my memory. Thankfully they didn’t all troop off stage but stayed on for the encores – a superb pair of covers: Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs and Vince Gill’s One More Last Chance.
Then it was over. An hour and twenty minutes seemingly gone in the blink of an eye. I could apply any and every superlative I could pull out of a thesaurus, but it still wouldn’t convey just how good this gig was. That’s GOOD!
From soup to nuts this was a gourmet meal, packed with delicacy and wholesome flavour packed dishes. He’s back here in the UK in July and I for one can’t wait to gorge once again.
A good mix of the sexes and of ages.
I couldn’t believe one guy, who must have been 6′ 6″ and his mate a mere 6 footer, standing very close to the stage, dead centre. Sure they have every right to stand there, as much as anyone else, but a little consideration for those shorter in stature and perhaps they could stand towards the side rather than centre would have been nice.
It made me think..
Gig of the year. Unless he tops it in July.