Newton Faulkner at The Olympia Theatre, 6th of February 2014

Whenever you hear recordings of legendary live performances they almost always come from acts who are just off the road. The Who’s performance at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Circus or Van Morrison’s ‘It’s Too Late To Stop Now’ both have an almost tangible amount of energy and confidence in them owing to the fact that they are preceded by a long stint on the road. On Thursday night, Newton Faulkner begins the first leg of his latest tour and a lack of stage-readiness is evident.

The opening act is lone guitarist Sam Brookes with a partly-filled Olympia to win over. His folk stylings put you very much in mind of Jeff Buckley, who of course casts a considerable shadow over modern singer-songwriters. His articulation of the words “where is my love” in the haunting Numb is similar to Buckley’s “where’s my love” in Lilac Wine and there’s a touch of The Connells’ ’74-’75 about his Breaking Blue. But his steady falsetto is an appealing sound and he fulfils his role as opener quite well, to return later to back up Mister Faulkner.

Faulkner’s set-up is very laid back. With a colourful record player and a shelf behind him he steps onto his carpeted stage wearing odd socks and pours himself some tea from a pot. The stage set-up features some foot-pedals that play ascending piano or bass or organ sounds – depending on the song – that Faulkner operates with his right foot, and a kick drum he hits with his left. His playing style also features a Jon Gomm-like leaping around the guitar creating drum noises and tweaking the reverberation, but for all the activity the entire event never rises above the feeling that we’ve all just dropped by Newton’s gaff while he’s strumming the auld guitar, and he hasn’t offered us any of his tea.

His ethos is one of communion, and he tries to harmonise the room by getting one half of the audience to sing one part of a song while the other half sings another, and these moments work quite well, particularly Dream Catch Me during the encore. As well as this a few additional elements add to the music, breaking it out of the hazy lethargy of the evening, such as the “dirty mic” he sings At The Seams into or the cello on Don’t Make Me Go There, both beautiful highlights of the gig. These moments shine out through the complicated set-up which distracts both Newton’s and our attention (will he hit the pedal properly this time? Will he twist the machine-head right?). It makes it so that the songs are sung without force or emotion which largely keeps the music from reaching a point of transcendence, surely the goal of all this harmonising.

Any of the problems seem to be missed by the audience, however, who enjoy the hell out of singing along to the poppy Write It On Your Skin and have a big mad leaping session for themselves when prompted to from the stage. This is the kind of harmony Newton attempts to create with his gigs, breaking down the wall between the artist and the audience, the way he broke down the process of recording and performing live by live-streaming the process of making his latest album ‘Studio Zoo’. It’s all admirable but it’s hard to imagine that anyone who wasn’t already into the music of Faulkner at the beginning of the gig would be into it at the end.

Newton Faulkner Photo Gallery

Photos: Sean Conroy