Cluny II Newcastle
4th September 2012
This was one of those concerts that you attend partly out of duty and partly out of curiosity but with your fingers crossed that it won’t be an unholy mess.
Dan Stuart was a founding member of the seminal Alt-Country band Green on Red during the 1980’s but, unlike his prolific sidekick Chuck Prophet, Dan has remained something of an enigma for the last 20 years or so; only making occasional forays back into the world of Rock and Roll.
Tonight’s venue, the Cluny II is normally described as intimate, but when the audience hardly totals 40 people it can still look cavernous to the performers on the stage.
The opening act Sacri Couri had us scratching our heads; until the penny dropped that they only played instrumentals and didn’t actually sing. In their defense the Italian quartet were mightily impressive with a guitarist who was mesmerizing and a drummer and keyboard players both played several instruments at once several times; which had to be seen and heard to be believed. It took me ages to come up with a way of describing their act – imagine an Avant-Garde Calexico covering Shadows B-Sides for a Sergio Leone movie and you’ll get the picture.
After a short break a grey-haired gentleman wearing cream slacks and a nice shirt (probably from M&S) confidently strode onto the stage and strapped on an acoustic guitar. With no introductions he began singing a heartfelt song I didn’t recognise which didn’t bode well for the rest of the set.
As the sparse crowd politely applauded, Sacri Couri made their way back on stage and plugged their instruments in and with a nod and a smile from Dan Stuart (for it was he) the band and singer launched into Couldn’t Get Arrested which immediately received a loud cheer from the crowd.
It didn’t take long for Stuart and the band to get into the groove and visibly relax; which set the scene for an excellent and memorable gig, and from that moment it was all uphill; with Stuart mixing in a few of his older solo songs alongside even older Green on Red songs and then sneaking in a couple of tracks from his new album (that he kept reminding us was for sale in the corner).
As Dan quickly got into the swing of things the Italians proved a more than capable backing band and; to some degree, probably played the older songs better than the original band ever did, as Green on Red once had a reputation as keen ‘party people.’
The only downside was the lack of introductions which means I can’t tell you what was and wasn’t played – although Love So Rare and Abigail both whisked me back to the halcyon days of the Riverside Club and an almost mythical Green on Red Concert nearly thirty years ago.
While singing a couple of the older more energetic songs, Two Lovers (Waiting to Die) springs to mind, Dan appeared to forget how old he was as he got all red faced and out of breath on the frenzied chorus leaving him gasping for air and mopping his brow at the end.
Towards the end of the show something sparked Stuart into a rant about the state of American politics these days which received ecstatic applause from a single audience member and embarrassed laughter from the rest; but let to an impassioned Gringo Go Home from the new album.
Another new song, What Are You Laughing About? which is based on a Spanish language poem, was particularly good and the buzz-saw guitar and anthemic chorus harked back to Stuart’s younger days.
By the end of the set Stuart looked bedraggled but thrilled at being back on stage and; instead of doing an encore invited the crowd to join him in the bar for a glass or two of cider and it looked like a dozen or so thought that a good idea.
All in all this was one of the best gigs I’ve seen this year and I look forward to hearing the new album when it gets released.