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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 

JOSH ROUSE Shepherds Bush Empire, London, May 25th 2006

I have to confess that I was dismayed to learn that Josh Rouse had released a football record. I know that we’re going to be inundated with soccer nonsense over the next month whilst a certain tournament mondial goes on in Germany, but Josh Rouse?

[Editor’s Note: open the following links at your own risks! ;-)] I’m not surprised by Sham 69’s ‘Hurry up England’ (‘though I’m dismayed that I can remember the original, with Jimmy Pursey’s thought provoking lyrics “Hurry up Harry we’re going down the pub”), or that Tony Christie has put together ‘Is this the way to the World Cup?’. I did think Whiskyfun favourite Wreckless Eric might have done better than release a World Cup version of ‘Whole wide world 4 England’ (ouch Eric). And I suppose we all could have predicted offerings like Stan Boardman’s ‘Aye aye ippy, the Germans bombed our chippy’, or the ToneDef Allstars’ (featuring among others ‘They think it’s all over’ Geoff Hurst) ‘Who do you think you are kidding Jurgen Klinsmann’. Yep – all part of a nation’s sporting shame. But Josh Rouse, whose last album Nashville was almost close to a masterpiece? And then I’d realised I’d misread the title, not Subbuteo, but Subtitulo. Phew! [Editor’s Note: culturally disorientated readers, confused by this longwinded and apparently meaningless joke, might wish to look here or here]
If you don’t know Nashville, written both as a homage and farewell to the city where Rouse had spent ten years honing his song writing skills, was one of the albums of 2005. Yes I know it’s poppy, but beneath that there’s huge depth, deeply personal lyrics, some great Brit-pop style guitar driven tunes, some wonderful lyrics (check out the Smiths tribute ‘Winter in the Hamptons’) and just a few touches of Nashville steel guitar. With its release, and a collapsed marriage behind him, Rouse set off for Spain, and it’s there where the new album was conceived and partially recorded. I guess you could say it’s more of the same, intimate, confessional, reflective – all that good old singer songwriter stuff. But it’s carried off with great aplomb – and it’s clear that even if he hasn’t written their World Cup song Rouse is very much at home in soccer mad Spain.
He’s equally at home on the stage of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. In fact from the moment he strides onto the stage (well, actually it takes off during his whistling solo half way through opener ‘Quiet town’) he owns the place. It really turns out to be a remarkable gig – full of confidence this guy fills the theatre; strong voice, great guitar playing, powerful harmonica, teasing rock and roll moves, the occasional amusing anecdote, a really personal touch (“turn up the lights, I want to see you all so I can tell my Mom you were here”) – he’s got the lot. He also has a fantastic band – drummer Marc Pisapia (who does a sturdy job as backing vocalist) and a very groove-driving bass player James Haggerty – together these two were the nucleus of the band on Nashville. The noise they make for a three piece is remarkable (and for the Bush very well balanced) – they even have a Crazy Horse moment during instrumental ‘La Costa Blanca’. And just to make up the set there is also an occasional string quartet lending support.
The Bush is packed. Audience mixed. The crowd are surprisingly raucous (“We love you Josh” growls some crafty cockney between each song, much to the singer’s amusement), passionate and enthusiastic. I think they even take Rouse and his band by surprise with their warmth and appreciation – but the band enjoy every minute of it. In return they give a set largely drawn form Subtitulo and Nashville. ‘Quiet Town’, ‘Giving it up’ and ‘It looks like love’ kicking off from the new album. Highlights of what follows are ‘Winter in the Hamptons’, ‘His Majesty rides’, ‘Wonderful’, ‘Summertime’, ‘Carolina’, ‘Streetlights’ and to finally finish ‘It’s the nighttime’. All compact songs perfectly executed. And at the end, after a short encore, he left the stage with a wave and the audience shrieking for more, amongst them the sceptical Photographer, whose doubts had faded during ‘Giving it up’ and who subsequently pronounced the evening “The eat my words gig of the year’. Sophisticated pop paradise with a twist of attitude, and all this for £15 – far less than the price of a World Cup ticket and more than twice the fun. Why watch football when you can buy Josh Rouse’s records, or even go and see him if you get the chance? - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)



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