Catherine Feeny - Manchester Club Academy
For once, a word for the support act. Jacob Golden, a tall, wiry fella of intense demeanour plays half a dozen songs from his debut album 'Revenge Songs' (a winning title.) With just acoustic guitar, he loses himself in what, on first hearing, sound like the darkest of campfire tales. By way of recommendation, he brings to mind Jeff Buckley on his 'Live at Sin-e' album, all tricksy arpeggios and quivering vocals, which should be recommendation enough. He's so intensely lost in his music, he demands attention and leaves to the stage to huge applause. To be followed up, definitely.
In Manchester as part of her debut UK headlining tour, Catherine Feeny delivers on the promise of her masterful album ('Hurricane Glass') impeccably. Flanked by a band of four who deliver her songs with the utmost empathy and skill, she shakes off what appear to be early nerves and plays a set stocked with energy and fire.
She kicks off - well, floats in -, with 'Radar' and loosens things up with the hip-swing of 'Always Tonight'. She plays all of the album (sadly minus its heart-breaking closer 'Forever') along with two songs - 'Belt Loops and Blue Jeans' and 'New York in the 70s' - from her hens-teeth 2003 debut. The latter's "And if there’s one thing that I could learn from TV/I wish that I could learn to be carefree" is the smartest piece of langourous ennui I've heard in an age. I also have to report a startling rendition of Phil Collins' 'In the Air Tonight'. A couple of hundred doubters visibly furrow brows and then, three minutes later, when it's clear it's worked, applaud like devils. Odd but good ... and, sure, I suspect you had to be there.
Once again it strikes me that 'Hurricane Glass' isn't so much an album that grows on you but one that releases its strange brew into your bloodstream slowly but surely. Songs that on first listening appear almost shapeless and tune-free actually start to emerge as deftly plotted and quietly brimming with subtle melody. Poetic ambition, plaintive and acerbic by turn, supports a lyrical edge of rare quality. Much of her material, I realise, could only have been written by an American. The likes of 'Shape You're In' or 'Hurricane Glass' burn and glow like lamplight on the back stoop. They're dusty trails, wide open backroads, motel room ashes. Every intro flickers into view like a master shot from 'The Last Picture Show'. The blue smoke and fire of Feeny's voice, the assiduous drive of her band, this heady mix enfolds and thrills. (Not wanting, not able, to pass over the voice, the obvious is worth stating for once - that voice, it's a gift.)
Other highlights tonight include a rocking 'Shape You're In' and 'Touch Back Down', this week's album stand-out. She offers apologies for her nationality when someone switches off their brain/mouth filter and yelps "Are you American or Irish ?" A dark reading of 'Unsteady Ground', her skewed response to US intervention, follows; the line about keeping God and your president seperate is prescient. Finishing with 'Hurricane Glass', she returns amidst ferverous encore demands : "I was just saying to the guys - Quick, before they stop clapping !" First support act Challenge of Feral Green (an acoustic duo whose set, sadly, ends as I arrive) accompany on the hymnal 'Hush Now'. A lovestruck lullaby, it's a fitting and blissful denouement.