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John Fullbright, Live in London

Live Review

Venue: Kings Place, London

Americana's great new hope plays live in peculiar wooden box

He's been compared with Steve Earle and Ryan Adams, he's been nominated for a Grammy, and he's performed alongside Lemmy at a Chuck Berry tribute concert... but how does John Fullbright fair when he rocks up in London without a band? Here's what we learnt.

Kings Place is a weird venue 
It's hidden deep in the bowels of The Guardian's London offices, and appears to be entirely constructed from strips of freshly lacquered pine (sustainably sourced, one presumes). Once seated (no drinks allowed), it feels like you're trapped inside a giant wicker basket. John Fullbright doesn't seen entirely convinced either: "This room is kinda scary", smiles the singer, who grew up playing Oklahoma restaurants, "but at least the piano is cheap". With that, he gingerly nudges the Steinway grand he's been provided with, which retails for about the same price as a three bedroom terrace in Huddersfield.  

You wish he'd get a band together 
An American Songwriter review of Fullbright's most recent album said, "Neil Young was 24 when he released After the Gold Rush. Joni Mitchell recorded Blue at 27. Years from now, after it stands the test of time, John Fullbright’s Songs could take its place in that same pantheon of hallowed musical masterpieces." That's all very well and good, but those were band albums, with musicians adding dynamism to delicately crafted tunes, whereas Songs is largely a single instrument album — either piano or guitar — and tonight Fullbright is on his own. With a voice that's sometimes more Eddie Vedder than Townes Van Zandt, it's only natural to wonder if he'd benefit from bringing in a few musicians to provide some oomph... and to conceal the occasional misplaced chord.

The High Road might just be the saddest song ever 
The story goes like this: man meets woman, man marries woman and plans family, man borrows money to buy land and tractor, man dies in horrific agricultural accident, woman grows old alone. As it starts, a punter in the row ahead turns to check on his wife, and with good reason: by the end, her shoulders are rocking up and down as she quietly sobs.  

He's deceptively old for such a young man 
Fullbright throws in a couple of covers: Hoyt Axton's Jealous Man and Jimmy Webb's If You See Me Getting Smaller (featuring the priceless line, "If you see me getting smaller, I'm leaving"). Both songs are very different from his own — the former cornball and carefree, the latter more complicated, ending in a cascade of piano flourishes — but Fullbright's own songs are the real highlights. They're frequently sad, often harrowing, occasionally uplifting, and stuffed full of the kind of weary wisdom you normally associate with writers who've been around the block then gone back for a few more laps. And he's only 26.     

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