Celtic Connections: Cowboy Junkies/John Murry. Kelvingrove art Gallery and Museum. 23rd January 2013

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Celtic Connections uses a variety of venues spread over Glasgow and the prospect of a show in this venerable Victorian pile was tantalising. Unfortunately, the reality was that as a venue for live rock music it failed dismally. The seating arrangement for anyone in the back half of the hall meant that the view was of some upper torsos of the artists. Worse was the sound, lost in the echoing galleries it was muddy and indistinct, similar to what I imagine the sound in a swimming pool might be like. Nevertheless the prospect of seeing John Murry, high on the acclaim of his debut solo album, The Graceless Age was indeed a tantalising prospect and despite the sound problems he put on a fantastic show. Backed by a three piece band (Sean Coleman, guitar, Michael Mullen, keyboards and Will Waghorn, drums and horn) Murry played several songs from the album and engaged in some lively banter with the audience (or at least the front rows who could hear him). He cut a clumsy and uncoordinated figure in between songs, fiddling with his pedals, at one point unable to choose which guitar to play, but when he played he did so with a passion that burned through the muddy sound and reminded the audience that he has lived the majority of the songs he played. The graceful and well produced elements of the Graceless Age were ditched in favour of a raw naked power with the guitar solos and feedback on Southern Sky raising hairs. At one point he asked if we wanted to hear a thin Lizzy guitar song and blasted into a frenzy of Neil Young like guitar thrashing which morphed into Penny Nails before climaxing with a Thin Lizzy type duel guitar workout. This was tremendous stuff. Murry paid tribute to the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse with a tender version of Maria’s Little Elbows but none of the songs had prepared the audience for his final piece. Introducing it as “a true fucking story”, he put down his guitar and sang Little Colored Balloons, a song which documents his near death from a drugs overdose. Without his stringed breastplate he seemed uncomfortable and unsure as to what to do with his hands. However his delivery of this harrowing and beautiful song was spine tingling as, voice wracked with emotion, he seemed to be reliving the trauma. This was raw, close to the edge drama, powerful and unsettling and when Murry abruptly left the stage leaving the band to close the song there was a small niggle at the back of one’s mind wondering if the emotional effort on show was just too much, too close to home. As a performance this was riveting and made one think of Neil Young’s stark Tonight’s The Night tour, teetering between brilliance and disaster. Oh to have seen this in a proper venue.

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After the psychodrama of John Murry The Cowboy Junkies were like a juggernaut that ploughed on despite ongoing sound problems. The lengthy blues soaked Working On A Building, all crashing guitars and cymbals, was the template for much of the night with Shining Moon featuring a harmonica solo that seemed to last forever. While there was plenty of Sturm und Drang, supplied by guitar, electric mandolin and drums throughout the set with Sweet Jane introduced by a thunderous rumble and clatter the best moments were when they eased up and laid back a little. With the middle section of the set dedicated to a brace of songs from their recent Wilderness collection two Vic Chesnutt covers, See You Around and Square Room were delivered with an appropriate delicate touch. Damaged From The Start benefited as a mainly acoustic piece and when Margo Timmins, brother Michael and Jeff Bird on mandolin delivered Townes Van Zandt’s Lungs and their own Remnin Park as a trio the instruments sparked as Timmons sang beautifully. Back to a full band they gave a fine rendition of Blue Moon Revisited while the encores, Misguided Angel and Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down showed that by then they had got to grips with the sound and had the audience enthralled. A very static band compared to Murry’s hyperactivity The Junkies surely pleased their fans and Margo Timmins was a commanding and gracious presence. However on the way out most folk I overheard were talking about Murry and his astonishing performance.

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2 thoughts on “Celtic Connections: Cowboy Junkies/John Murry. Kelvingrove art Gallery and Museum. 23rd January 2013

  1. Totally disagree. It was dreadful to the point of being embarrassing. You obviously never saw the steady strean of people leaving from the back of the hall. I will agree the sound was bad and his album may be very good but the live performance was a sham.

    • I disagree and most of the reviews I’ve seen of his other gigs have been supportive. I didn’t see folk leaving and at the end I spoke to a few folk who thought it was a minor triumph over very bad odds.

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