Richmond Fontaine, Laura Gibson

Review Date September 19, 2011

Review By Keith Clark

Location The Tunnels, Bristol

This was one of those gigs that underline the importance of turning up on time to catch the supporting act as you just never know when you are going to be presented with a real and unexpected treat. Laura Gibson, a singer-songwriter from Portland, Oregon, who is touring with Richmond Fontaine on this tour was certainly not someone you would have wanted to miss. Blessed with a wonderfully clear, fragile voice and accompanied by highly talented multi-instrumentalist Sean Ogilvie, she delivered a mesmerising set of mostly her own songs plus a few from the folk tradition. Her version of In The Pines owed more to Nirvana than to Leadbelly and was simply stunning. Richmond Fontaine have released a brand new album, THE HIGH COUNTRY, so it was to be expected that like most bands on promo tours their set list would probably include a small number of the new songs scattered amongst the big hits. The Oregon-based band obviously don’t believe in taking the easy route however for when they came on stage frontman Willy Vlautin informed us that actually they were going to do the whole of the new album, all 17 tracks of it including spoken narratives and instrumental interludes, before doing some of their older familiar songs. Whether in his much acclaimed novels, his short stories or his songs, Vlautin has always tended to write extremely literate but often very bleak tales of drifters, dreamers, drunks, gamblers, murderers, the disaffected and others for whom the American Dream has turned into a nightmare. The songs that make up THE HIGH COUNTRY were therefore in familiar territory. A kind of country-rock opera it told the story of the doomed love affair between a mechanic and the girl at the auto parts shop in a remote logging community and contains more killings than a Tarantino movie. That might sound far too sombre and melancholy to be much fun but actually it was a performance that completely held your interest. A lot of that was due to Vlautin’s narrative songs which were so vivid you couldn’t help feeling that you were listening to the soundtrack to a piece of Film Noir. It also helped that the songs were set to suitably sparse and very atmospheric arrangements that ranged from quiet acoustic to a restrained bar band rock swagger. Amy Boone from the Texan band the Damnations TX, who had been drafted in to provide the female leads sung by her sister Deborah Kelly on the album, produced one of the standouts of the set with the quiet Let Me Dream Of The High Country. Her I Can See A Room, a duet with Vlautin, was painfully beautiful. The sparse The Mechanic, which the singer told us was his favourite of all the songs he has written, was haunting and there was chilly horror in On A Spree. They really rocked out on The Chainsaw Sea and Lost In The Trees, while in The Eagles Lodge there was a reference to Brummie Metal Gods Judas Priest. After the shortest of breaks the band returned to the stage and played a set that was actually longer than complete gigs from some bands and included a number of more familiar songs from their previous eight studio albums, including the country punk 1968, a very well-received Post To The Wire, Making It Back, the Calexico-like Moving Back Home #2 and a superb version of Western Skyline featuring some exceptional guitar work from Dan Eccles. Amy Boone got the chance to take the lead on one of her own band’s songs, No Sign Of Water. If more than 20 songs wasn’t enough, the band returned to do Two Alone and closed with Winner’s Casino. It was a thoroughly satisfying epic of a gig by an outfit that has consistently shown itself to be one of the most creative bands on the Americana scene.

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