John Fullbright - St Bonaventure's, Bristol
Despite this being his third tour in the UK, and third time at St. Bonaventure’s Parish Social Club in the last year or so, there’s still a sense of intrigue about John Fullbright’s latest trip to British shores. That’s mainly due to the slower, more downbeat second album he’s just released in the US, but which has been delayed until the end of July in the UK. Being such a change of pace to his Grammy nominated debut album is one thing; playing to a packed Bristol venue that likely hasn’t heard much, if anything, of the new album is a potential challenge.
Opening up the evening though was Jarrod Dickenson, a nattily dressed Texan with an impressive beard and smart hat. Some fine guitar playing, on ‘Rosalee’ in particular, and some lovely, quite delicate songs meant his half hour went by in style. 'In The Meantime' showcases his whiskey splashed, butter smooth voice and the genius of ending with his best song, the sleazy blues of 'Little Black Dress', meant the merch table was busy with punters for his EP.
When Fullbright ventures onto the stage it’s hard to imagine a more low key entrance. A black shirt, dark blue jeans, guitar and piano are all that accompany the Oklahoma native and his microphone. It’s obvious from the off this will be significantly different from his previous UK shows; starting with a run of tracks from new album Songs, it’s a quiet and thoughtful first 20 minutes or so. Without the electric guitar solos of sideman Terry Ware, the lyrics and voice are more stark - and the mood fits the simplicity of the songs perfectly.
Off stage, the 26 year old seems a quiet and contemplative type, but any shyness – one anecdote is about him being painfully shy as a kid and not being able to play the piano in front of anyone – isn’t apparent on stage. He talks in awe about the day's visit to Stonehenge, describes “noodling” with his brother (it’s a form of fishing) and discussed the origin of the town Gene Autry in Oklahoma. Talk of his home state is one of the recurring things of his show, with one of the evening’s highlights, the harmonica-driven rocker ‘All The Time In The World’, having an entire verse about the state (“Central Oklahoma / Is my land, it's my country / Eastern Oklahoma is a beautiful sight.”).
The show is divided into two: the first half on guitar, the second on the keys, and most of the material is lifted from the new album. They’re mostly smaller, more personal songs, although ‘Going Home’ is louder than you’d think an acoustic guitar and harmonica could get. The reaction from the crowd is enthusiastic, though the most noise comes from old favourites ‘Satan and St. Paul’ and the closing double of ‘Gawd Above’ and ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business’ - the best live performances you’re likely to see this year.
How to sum up the show? An American singer-songwriter who plays with the kind of passion that Johnny Cash used to play. That’s not too big a compliment. You get the feeling that there won’t be many more chances to see John Fullbright in an intimate venue like St Bons. This sort of performance from an extraordinary talent was one to tell your grandchildren about.