Richmond Fontaine/Peter Brutenell @the New Roscoe, Leeds
Show business as the saying goes is all about 'the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd'. Too true tonight it stinks in here. Its an unseasonably hot September evening in that battered old boozer, the New Roscoe. The punters are packed into here like tinned sardines eager to see Richmond Fontaine and we are smelling none too pretty. Something about the heat also seems to have raised the ghosts of all the cigarettes smoked, drinks spilt, sweat deposited and who knows what else in this place over the years.
Before Richmond Fontaine take to the stage we have Peter Brutnell. I've never really come across this guy before but I'll be looking out for him from now on. He looks slightly down at heel in a shabby mismatched brown suit, no tie and a scraggly beard. His songs are low key but full of textures with gently buzzing guitar feedback frequently the background to sympathetic playing. The highlight for me was a song called 'John' inspired by the film 'Walk the Line'.
Richmond Fontaine are very much an acquired taste so its amazing to see the number of devotees they've attracted tonight. Particularly with Vetiver playing the Brudenell the same night and so splitting the Americana loving segment of the Leeds public. The principal components of Richmond Fontaine are the words of Willy Valutin and the songs built around the words by the band.
Valutin's songs mainly tell stories. He tells of dysfunctional people struggling to make sense of a cold hard world. Unlike Shane Macgowan there is no boozy senitimentality cutting through the misery. Neither do his stories have the gothic biblical epic feel of Nick Cave's. Also there is none of the surreal humor that Tom Waits brings to similar territory. Bruce Springsteen's low key moments such as 'Nebraska' mine similar material but Springsteen is an outsider looking in and he can't tell the stories with the fluidity and simplicity that Valutin brings to bear.
Tonight's performance is centred around the new album "We used to think the Freeway sounded like a River". The core members of the band Valutin, Dan Eccles on guitar, Dave Harding on bass and Sean Oldham on drums are joined by Ralph Huntley on piano and accordion. Missing is frequent touring member Paul Brainard who adds pedal steel and trumpet. The piano adds a different dimension to the music though and is great addition.
In '43' a divorcee resorts to growing marijuna to pay for the nursing home for his elderly mother and the alimony for his ex-wife. The music reflects the paranoia and fatalism felt by the character as he hears a police helicopter in the sky.
The protagonist in 'the Boyfriends' comes face to face with his own past when he dates a single mother. An ex-alcoholic finds a replacement addiction in boxing in 'The Pull'.
One of the difference between seeing an ordinary bunch of musicians and ones that are a bit special is the way that good players also know when not to play. During ' Lonnie' Valutin talks to somebody he knows who as obviously been bought low by some substance addiction. After the chorus everybody drops out leaving the piano to accompany as he sings 'I've seen you lying on your back. Ambulance sirens heard after that'. Its one of those shiver down your spine moments.
A tounge in cheek heckler early on suggests that they should play something cheerful. Finally during the encore they play 'Barely Losing'. A song about a 'two day vacation' and even then there's a shadow. The imminent return to whatever life the narrator lives normally. Mind you isn't that a feeling that we all get?
Normal service is resumed with the last song, 'Western Sky'. Willy's account of two best friends who go hunting. There is an accident and one friend dies in the arms of the other. And on that cheery note we all file out of the New Roscoe oddly lifted by these tales of everyday misery.