Jonathan Wilson - Islington Assembly Hall
The Islington Assembly Hall is a wonderful venue for a gig; I first came here earlier this year to see Brandi Carlile play and the venue itself is certainly a spectacle. With much of the decor and fittings originally from the 1930s - including the toilets - it’s incredible to think that it was closed for over 20 years until its re-opening in 2010. Both times I’ve visited the act on stage have commented on the setting; tonight Jonathan Wilson remarks “Lets hear it for Islington. And this good looking joint!”
Wilson brings his brand of new age Laurel Canyon guitar noodling to the capital. He’s been at the forefront of the new wave of retro-sounding music coming out of Los Angeles these last few years. With his producer's hat on, he's worked with Roy Harper, Dawes, Father John Misty, among others, all with that distinctive laid-back sound. Although the close-knit community of Laurel Canyon in the 1970s doesn’t physically exist anymore, musically it continues - with Wilson at the centre. On his 2013 album Fanfare guest slots from Crosby and Nash, Jackson Browne and members of both Dawes and Wilco, all add to that community vibe.
The challenge for guitarists is to keep the crowd interested and not become too self indulgent. This evening Wilson has brought his long hair (neatly wrapped in a ponytail) and his favourite guitars, all to transport us back to another time. The musicians around him are almost there for ambiance, for the show is all about Wilson and his guitar skills. So with incense sticks lit, dry ice billowing from backstage, and his long cardigan on he's off - and noodling. His voice is much rawer live than on record, where his soft tones add much to the sound. There’s no doubting his prowess with the six string, ‘Lovestrong’ and ‘Dear Friend’ are standouts, and there’s a touch of Neil Young to his live interpretation of ‘Magic Everywhere’.
After starting off as a producer Wilson has moved effortlessly into being a performer, he knows his way around instruments and sounds. You can hear touches of artists he’s produced in some songs, and if you’re into long meandering songs and guitar solos (that just about stay on the right side of audience-friendly) then this is a live show that many will find merit in. And if you don't, then you can always just check out the architecture.