Review: Amanda Shires – King Tuts, Glasgow

In the history of why-on-earth-book-a-popular-artist-into-such-a-small-venue, booking Amanda Shires into King Tuts would score pretty damn high on the why-o-meter. Sure, the venue has a history (*insert mandatory “Oasis were discovered here” quote right about now), and the number of established acts (Biffy, REM, Coldplay, Beck, The Strokes, MCR, Muse, etc) that have graced the famous stage is enviable. But there are better venues in Glasgow (Oran Mor would have been an ideal choice) and while some would say that the venue’s charm lies in the fact that it is on the small side, others might counter that the bizarre layout of the venue means that portions of the 300-capacity audience won’t have any sight lines of the stage and instead have to resort to simply listening to the music from the side while trying to make out what is going on onstage by watching the Betamax-quality screen above the bar. Tonight, the place is rammed. Absolutely rammed.

The opening act for this short run of dates is Texan guitarist, singer, songwriter, and producer Jarrod Dickenson; aided and abetted by his wife Claire Dickenson – one of the finest voices to have come out of Norn Iron in a very long time. A road warrior of the highest degree, Dickenson is no stranger to these shores, and after a brush with Covid that left him with a life-long medical condition, it’s great to see the likeable big fella back where he belongs: onstage telling stories with his guitar.

Touring in support of his latest album (the immense ‘Big Talk’) Dickenson has taken the songs featured within and stripped them back down for a duo, and the difference is startling. One of the standout moments on ‘Big Talk’ is a middle finger raised in retort to Spotify and other streaming giants in the shape of ‘Born To Wander’, and most grassroots performers will nod in agreement with the lyrics “A song ain’t worth a penny/A story ain’t worth a dime/And chances are you’ll starve/For putting in the time…”. On the album, the track is fast-paced and possesses a bit of a Tom Petty punch here and there, live it is starker and packs an almighty wallop. So at ease onstage, Dickenson has a warm, charm about him that quickly breaks down the supposed wall between a performer and their audience, and when he mentions the new album and gets a half-hearted “whoo-ooh” from the crowd, he jokes “Ooooh, that’s going straight up the charts now!”. As strong a response from an audience towards an opening act as you are as likely to witness, the pair leave the stage and head over to the merch desk to sign whatever is put in front of them and pose for selfies as if their life depended on it. Catch Jarrod and Claire on a headlining jaunt around the UK later this year.

Amanda Shires could sing you your new mortgage repayment rates, and not only would you thank her, but you also would tell her that seems a bit on the low side and to add a few percent on for good measure. With a vocal range and delivery that has inspired several “Dolly Parton for a new generation” quotes, she is the real deal. “Dolly Parton for a new generation” or “The new Dolly Parton”…nah, she’s the first Amanda Shires and that’s more than good enough.

With a stunning new album – ‘Take It Like A Man’ – tucked under her belt, the Grammy-award-winning singer-songwriter and musician has plenty to say, and backed by one hell of a band, she manages the almost impossible and manages to easily connect with her audience while filling the opening hour or so with all new material. Most will go with the tried and trusted route of casually dropping a few new tracks in and around more familiar material, but ‘Take It Like A Man’ is such a strong album and one that is easily relatable from a listener’s point of view, that the tracks featured within already feel like they have been rattling around for years. 9 of the 10 tracks that make up the deeply personal album (described by Shires as dealing with “sexual politics”) are aired tonight in the opening segment, and highlight the variety found within Amanda’s music which makes trying to pigeonhole her into one genre a futile task. ‘Bad Behavior’ for instance has a classic soulful touch to it and the soft, light strains laid down by the keys player (a Welshman, Pete, jokingly from “Cardeef” no less) provide a pillow-soft vibe for Amanda to showcase that amazing vocal range touched on earlier. The jaunty ‘Here He Comes’ quickly follows on and has Amanda joking that she is “…not known for her dancing…”, but with such an infectious groove throughout, it’s pretty hard not to dance to it. Same with ‘Stupid Love’, one of the lighter tracks subject matter-wise on TILAM, one of those tracks where you might find yourself smiling along with, and not knowing why.

The first elongated roars of approval from the audience appear at the end of the stop-you-in-your-tracks ‘Hawk For A Dove’ which is rapidly becoming one of the best songs of the last few years. On its own, as a single it works perfectly, but hearing it raw, among the other tracks on the album, it is simply magnificent. Such a strong, smoldering, sensual few minutes that would work just as well in a Wim Wenders movie as it would in a flash, big-budget DIOR commercial. Just as she is about to unleash her fiddle solo, Amanda motions to the sound guy to turn it up, and the first strike of the bow unleashes a maelstrom of such gothic darkness that Robert Smith and Andrew Eldritch are having an arm wrestle to see who gets to sample it first. The applause from the audience is probably still ringing around the venue even now. The title track from TILAM follows on and the killer, mournful guitar solo from long-time Shires cohort Zach Setchfield just about steals the show, and quickly dispels the myth that all guitar heroes need to be in black leather trousers and aviator shades – although as Amanda jokes at one point, the quiet unassuming guitarist did get his first piercing that day. ‘Fault Lines’ is another standout moment. The fragile vocals from Amanda are crystal clear thanks to an audience that is actually paying attention and not chattering during the quiet moments.

Once the run-through of TILAM is complete, the closing stages are a free for all and deliver a gorgeous live version of Amanda’s cover of John Prine’s ‘Saddle in the Rain’ (fantastic drum intro from local boy Stuart Provan) where her fiddle playing is jaw-droppingly good, and one almighty jam ensues. With a new album recorded with the late great Bobbie Nelson (Willie’s sister) just released, a stunning cover of ‘Always On My Mind’ provides another moment where the applause from the audience seems to go on forever once the last strains of the song fade out. One of those you-had-to-be-there moments…ditto an emotional rendition of ‘Highwoman’.

What is quite bizarre though is that after only a few prior warm-up appearances at festivals, this was the first proper gig by this lineup (completed by bassist Jonathan). Had you poked your head around the corner to see what all the noise was and caught this band so much in each other’s pockets, you would have sworn that they had been playing together for years and not weeks. Led by one of the biggest talents on the worldwide Americana scene (although it does sell Amanda Shires a bit short by just classing her as an American act as you could add pop, rock, indie, easy listening to that list), this show is an emotional night of rock and roll fiddle, and full of heart. Discover for yourself on one of the remaining European tour dates listed below. But be prepared to sweat. Standing room only.

Sun 25 June – Paterskerek – Eindhoven, NL- TICKETS
Mon 26 June – Oosterpoort – Groeningen, NL- TICKETS
Tue 27 June – Paradiso Noord – Amsterdam, NL- TICKETS

Review – Dave

Photo credit: Michael Schmelling

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