My Soundtrack to a Year of Gigging

Having had the pleasure of seeing both Bon Iver and Matt Corby live in the past couple of weeks I have found myself reflecting on twelve months of gig-going and the best live tracks I’ve seen during that time.

Matt Corby SCALA

In that period I have seen James Vincent McMorrow at the Queen’s Hall Edinburgh supported by Lindi Ortega, Ben Howard at the Riverside in Newcastle supported by Lucy Rose, Matt Corby topping the bill at one of Communion record label’s host evenings at the Notting Hill Arts Club, Bon Iver at Wembley supported by The Staves and then Matt Corby again, this time at a headline show supported by Lucy Mason and Bear’s Den.

Within these shows there have been special moments by the barrel-load and all-in-all very little to complain about. I have in the past been to a few underwhelming gigs but those which I have been to over the last year haven’t let me down in the slightest and if anything have far exceeded expectations.

So, in tribute, to I have put together a little album/playlist of the best live tracks I have seen at the shows I’ve been to over the year…

Bon Iver – Perth

This opened their Wembley set and the live performance gave a whole new dimension to their prog-rock inspired second album, the self titled Bon Iver.

Ben Howard – The Wolves

This is perhaps Ben’s most well-known and well-loved single and it didn’t disappoint live and had the entire crowd howling back at him.

James Vincent McMorrow – From the Woods

Before seeing him live From the Woods was far from being one of my favourite songs from James’ debut album but after seeing him and his brilliant band playing it in Edinburgh it soon became a firm favourite.

Matt Corby – Made of Stone

I have now had the pleasure of seeing Matt play this liver twice and on each occasion he played a totally different version. The second time I saw him play it was at SCALA and he played it with the accompaniment of the band but the first time he played it he performed alone with just his piano for company and it was stunning.

Bon Iver (feat. The Staves) – RE: Stacks

This has always been my favourite track from their first album and hearing Justin Vernon play it live was a pretty special moment for me and having support act The Staves on backing vocals made it even better still.

The Staves – Facing West

A three-piece female, folk-harmony group doesn’t exactly sound like a formula for filling an arena as huge as Wembley but their performance was surprisingly brilliant.

Lucy Rose – Shiver

Like The Staves at Wembley little Lucy Rose didn’t exactly seem suited to the venue she was playing, The Riverside in Newcastle, but this track stood out in her stint supporting Ben Howard.

Ben Howard – Black Flies

Easily dismissed as “just another bloke with a guitar”, Black Flies proves exactly why Ben Howard is so much more than that. Dark, intense and evocative, this was a song that came to life on the stage.

Bon Iver – Creature Fear

This song is an understated effort from their first album but at Wembley the arena-filling chorus contrasted brilliantly with the low-key verses and proved a great link between their first and second albums.

Matt Corby – Brother

His most celebrated work to date. This track is tinged with regret and harks back to masters of the genre, namely Jeff Buckley, and there are also comparisons in the vocal delivery to be made to Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon fame.

James Vincent McMorrow – Higher Love

Just prior to this song bursting into prominence courtesy of the LOVEfilm advert, I saw James play this in solo mode at the Queen’s Hall Edinburgh and it was at the time a startling version of Steve Winwood’s cheesy 80’s pop hit.

Alexander Wolfe – Stuck in September

Playing as part of the bill at Communion record label’s regular slot at the Notting Hill Arts Club, Alexander Wolfe lulled the crowd into a mild stupor with this gentle and somewhat haunting offering. Granted, his sets will never be thrill a minute but he certainly has his appeal.

Matt Corby – Kings, Queens, Beggars and Thieves

This makes the cut purely on grounds that it is a personal favourite of mine. I wasn’t expecting it to be on the set-list but it was and it would be fair to say I was pretty chuffed.

James Vincent McMorrow – Wicked Game (Chris Isaak’s cover)

Stunning. Need I say more?

Bon Iver – The Wolves (Acts I and III)

This first-album-favourite from the Wisconsin folk-sters formed part of their encore and it provided the sort of stunning and dramatic ending the brilliant show deserved.

Soul’s A Fire: Matt Corby the Unintended Headline Act at Communion

There is something very special about beating the rush and getting to see a phenomenal artist before they really ‘make it’. This particular artist though, Matt Corby, has actually already ‘made it’ in his homeland but as yet hasn’t been fully unleashed on the UK market where he is sure to shine and gain his greatest level of recognition to date.

Last night I experienced this sensation when I visited the Notting Hill Arts Club for a gig hosted by Communion record label where Torches were meant to be the headline act but had their limelight somewhat taken by the last-minute special guest who announced his place on the billing just three days before the gig.

Matt Corby Singer

Australia’s Matt Corby is signed to Communion and will be embarking on his first ‘proper’ tour of Europe this Autumn/Winter

Matt Corby, if you haven’t come across him yet, is an Australian ‘singer/songwriter’ who has taken a rather unusual route to the verge of stardom having begun his singing career by appearing on Australian Idol at a very tender age, where he made it all the way through to the latter stages before being eliminated at the last. Thank god he didn’t win.

If he had then who knows where or how he would have ended up but thankfully it didn’t come to that and the then 16 year old learnt the error of his ways and took off in his own direction and what a direction it has become.

If you haven’t encountered him before, then please, before listening to Corby forget about any prejudices you might have about ‘singer/songwriters’ as in this case you’re not dealing with the Jason Mraz’s and Ed Sheeran’s of this world but you are faced with a totally new dimension of this old genre.

Where Mraz and Sheeran (both of whom are artists I have seen perform live in the past) veer towards ‘crooning’ territory and sing tales about “geeks in the pink” and “lov[ing] Shrek”, Corby strikes a far darker and more menacing tone with a far more haunting and at times devastating lyrical content.

Such comments aren’t intended to belittle the likes of Sheeran who has found his own niche and his own form of diversity in teaming up with grime artists, using loop pedals and in singing songs that sound sweet in spite of their subject matters which include rape, prostitution and miscarriage, or indeed Mraz who has his own take on the genre with his at times very slick and very witty approach to songwriting.

This comment is instead designed to sub-categorize this all too wide-spanning a genre and to elevate Corby’s daring and soaring sound to it’s own very deserving perch, a perch which I believe is deserving of greater critical appreciation and recognition than the work of artists like Ed Sheeran and Jason Mraz who may well be hugely successful and may well be talented but for me can’t match up to the emphatic performances and song-writing depth of Corby.

The angst and the ferocity of Corby’s vocals set him apart from an awful lot of the music industry’s success stories within this at times rather antiquated genre and was at first-hand like nothing I have ever really known or witnessed emanating from the lungs of a ‘singer/songwriter’ before.

Sure, I had been an admirer of Matt Corby’s for quite a while having first been drawn to his sound when I first heard a live version of his most successful song to date ‘Brother’ and I had sensed the vocal range and power that he possesses, but there is nothing quite like having it performed live and within five metres of you.

After this first-hand experience and some considerable reflection I would place him somewhere between Caleb Followill (of Kings of Leon fame) and Jeff Buckley on the vocal spectrum, in that he combines Followill’s strength and grittiness with the Buckley’s delicacy, darkness, tone and control. I am far from an expert when it comes to singing and vocal control (as anyone who has heard me in full-flow will testify) but I advise you to imagine the combined vocal strengths and qualities of these two aforementioned artists and to throw in a hefty amount of soulful inspiration if you wish to gain an idea of what Matt Corby is all about.

Corby’s set at the Arts Club last consisted of  just 5 songs which were (in order); Soul’s A Fire, Made Of Stone, Runaway, Brother and Big Eyes. The set-list from his performance last night is listed below with accompanying videos from previous live performances….

1. Soul’s A Fire:

2. Made Of Stone:

3. Run Away: (The actual performance from last night’s performance in Notting Hill)

4. Brother:

5. Big Eyes:

The journey of this set started, as stated above, with a rendition of ‘Soul’s A Fire’ which is a heavily blues influenced rock track which showed off both the delicacies of Corby’s vocal range with his ability to channel the spirit of guitar-soul icons such as Jimi Hendrix. This track features on Matt’s ‘Into The Flame’ E.P and it made for an emphatic start to his set.

The second track which he performed last night was the haunting ‘Made Of Stone’ which he performs with staggering vocal control amidst the gymnastic ability required by his tonsils throughout in order to hit the extraordinary notes which he takes on whilst performing the melodic backing track on piano.

Then, sandwiched between his more familiar tracks, was a new song of Matt’s titled ‘Run Away’ which is an epic tail of heartbreak and the breakdown of a relationship consumed by selfishness and volatility. They may not on paper sound like inspired lyrics but the repetitive burst of “She doesn’t give a shit about you” strikes an agonising chord as Corby’s vocals soar into their grittiest and most heart-wrenching state.

There was no let-off either as Corby followed this tale of woe with the previously mentioned ‘Brother’ which is another heart-wrenching tale of love and mistreatment laced heavily with regret. This is arguably the song which is most indicative of any defined genre in which one could place Corby as it combines beautifully his delicate menace and his thumping and scratching roars of emotion.

To follow such agony came the sweet ‘Big Eyes’ to close the set as Corby lulled the audience into a comfortable stupor and this closing performance was an apt demonstration of Matt’s diverse songwriting abilities and of the emotions which he is capable of evoking.

I realise that this ‘review’ of sorts sounds rather more like a love letter to Matt Corby than a fair and balanced analysis but I honestly couldn’t possibly pick fault with what I saw. The performance was stunning from start to finish and I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing a full-length performance from him some time in the near future.

I implore anyone who reads this to give him a good lengthy listen and to buy tickets for his forthcoming UK tour which there is meant to be an announcement about through his website tomorrow….

I should also quickly mention Alexander Wolfe who was the other Communion signed artist I saw perform at the Arts Club last night whose performance might not have been as epic as Corby’s but was soulful and unique in it’s own right. Check him out too…