Neil McSweeney: The Library Theatre, Sheffield

There’s something strangely civilised about going to a gig at the theatre. My idea of a gig usually consists of background chatter and impossibly packed out bars. However, such theatrical formalities mean that the audience’s full attention is where it should be; on tonight’s acts.

Supporting is country/folk artist, David J Roch, a man with the most startling vocal range I have ever heard live. His high pitched choir boy vocals are guaranteed to smash some icicles on this particularly freezing night. Along with his band, in matching denim shirts, David opens with an atmospheric track with tense drums and haunting high vocals. I soon discover that building tension is this band’s speciality. ‘Four Long Years’ displays David’s deeper vocals, with tragic trumpet giving this track a funeral march feel. But it’s not all doom and gloom. David jokes they are about to play, ‘A happy song.’ and adds, ‘This could go terribly wrong.’ ‘Love Remains’ is an uplifting pop song that brings Mumford & Sons to mind. And although it doesn’t go terribly wrong, I somehow prefer the songs that cause mesmerising heartache. ‘They’ll Be Hell To Pay’ does this best with its gradual progression of booming drums before exploding into yelled harmonies. Between songs, we witness David’s sense of humour and effortless rapport with the audience which nicely balances out the the serious subject matter of his music and lyrics. We then find David alone on stage with just his guitar and echoing vocals, the effect being utterly atmospheric. The band come back for last song, ‘Don’t Let Go Yet’, which follows the formula of a gentle build up, before catching you off guard when all the band finally kick in. As David J Roch’s set comes to a close, I am left blown away by the band’s perfect sound quality and thoroughly amazing performance.

David J Roch is a tough act to follow but Neil McSweeney is equally talented and every bit as humorous. Neil is also backed by a band including violinist, Lucy Farrell whose high vocals add a lovely touch to Neil’s deep gruff vocals. The first song opens with ghostlike whistles whilst the second is much bouncier with a purer country sound. The tone soon changes for a more serious song accompanied by Lucy on the saw. Who needs instruments when you’ve got perfectly good tools lying around? ‘New Year’s Day’ is a stand out track with it’s weary jingle bells and the reappearance of ghostlike noises on the guitar adding a bleak and thoughtful feel. Neil is then left alone for ‘London Road’, a beautifully reminiscent folk song about bottles of wine, the smell of petrol and long drives home. Neil graciously thanks the audience for the good turn out tonight, joking, ‘despite the snow armageddon and the various plagues that are going around.’ He ends with a blues inspired rock’n’roll tune with the band before returning alone for a two song encore. The second about parenthood on the horizon, containing sweet philosophical lyrics, ‘When we lose our way, it’s just a new way we’ve found.’ And just when the audience think it’s all over, Neil is more than happy to return for final encore, ‘Flamenco’.

Tonight is just what I needed, with no shoving through crowds to get to the bar. But if that is what you want, David J Roch has invited us all to the Great Gatsby for one. You in?

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