Having only seen Willie once before, at a short but sweet set at Latitude festival a few years ago, but listening to his music obsessively ever since, I was beyond eager to catch him live again to see the prowess of his latest records first hand. Luke Bower reviews.
Opening the night were Feet, providing us with a set of selected ‘album two’ material to sink our teeth into, ahead of its upcoming release next year. This was accompanied by a few recognisable offerings nestled in between. Chalet 47 and Dog Walking, among other highlights, were met with resounding appreciation from the already packed Rescue Rooms; not too dissimilar a reaction to if they were headlining themselves. The group occupied the stage with relentless energy that set the tone of the evening, commanded effortlessly by tambourine-brandishing frontman, George Haverson. They solidified their wonky excellence in the scene for those unfamiliar with their back catalogue.
Willie’s performance felt like a gathering with old friends
Up next was the man himself, delivering a set of tonal complexity and diving in and out of old and new material which seamlessly created a near-perfect set. Willie’s performance felt like a gathering with old friends, with the frontman conversing with familiar faces in the crowd between songs, and the whole band embracing the appraisal of the fans with a sincerity and warmth not found in many touring musicians. Extended jams accompanied the likes of many of the tracks performed, with Thank You being a highlight of the night in this regard. Willie and the others onstage brought the song a newfound energy which never downplayed the studio performance’s intricacy and soulful nuance, bringing the track to a close with the audience reciting its chorus back to the band.
the track staples the middle of the set with well needed ferocity, anguish and desperation
Other tracks from his latest offering earlier this year, Bunny, were scattered throughout the set, providing a soulful, groovy backbone for those on stage to play off one another. Dreams and Bumble Bee – the latter of which paved the way for Willie and his band to enter the stage through a solitary drum machine loop – stand tall amongst the rest of Willie’s discography, with 70’s infused bass and guitar lines, and graceful melodies, enticing the ears of those in attendance. All Those Things from Willie’s debut 2017 record, People and Their Dogs, feels like it could’ve gotten lost over time, what with his last two records being quite a departure from this sound. Yet, the track staples the middle of the set with well needed ferocity, anguish and desperation that reinforces its place as a stand out of Willie’s.
It was especially gratifying to hear so much material off Willie’s second record, Twin Heavy, my favourite of his. True Stereo’s lyrical themes of romantic yearning and simple hedonism translate in full effect in front of an audience, with its complex riffs and drum grooves propelling its electric last minute or so live. For You’s verses push and pull amongst driving bass-lines and guitar flourishes, culminating in a cathartic, spaced-out chorus: a love song that should always be a staple in Willie’s sets going forward. Subterraneans closely follows: a tentative, introspective track of wailing guitar passages and whispered vocals that soon descends into justified aggression and desperation.
Willie serenading, and seemingly hypnotising, the entirety of the venue with his vocals
Where Willie shines however is when it’s just him and his guitar alone on stage, with solo renditions of Black Camaro and We Should Hang undoubtedly being the highlights of the entire set for me. The melancholia of the tracks is only heightened in a live setting, with Willie serenading, and seemingly hypnotising, the entirety of the venue with his vocals; everyone was quite literally reduced to silence (in the best way) as we witnessed his mastery.
The band’s encore closed the night with a one-two combo of pop infused, anthemic soulfulness, through Songs for Joanna and Fashun, with the latter delivering a jaunty expression of humorous desire for stardom from Willie; a perfect way to close the evening.
Willie J Healey’s Bunny tour finds him at his best: an artist firmly at the wheel of his own image, with an incredible run of records so far to boot. He delivers on every level, with his nuanced technicality as a musician and vulnerability displayed in his lyricism always acting in unison to brilliant effect.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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