Israel Nash and Leslie Stevens @Newcastle The Cluny 2, August 27 2019
There has never been a better time to sing a protest song. And Israel Nash has a few. But it takes a special talent to sound entirely plausible when delivering politically charged material that matters. Nash has that capacity. Performing with rich authenticity is really no problem and powerful set closer Ohio – albeit ‘borrowed’ from Crosby, Stills and Nash – gloriously proved the point.
Yet it seems the wider world is yet to wake up to one of the finest singer songwriters in a generation. That Nash was playing in front of a handful of fans (rather than thousands) suggests Trump, Johnson et al can rest easy for now. But when word does get around – and the Missouri native’s message is heard by a far wider audience – those driving dangerous societal change will suddenly be diving for cover.
Down In The Country criticised the US regime better than any media commentator or nameless demonstrator ever could and the most affecting of Nash’s new tunes hit the mark with a thunderous slap. Dividing Lines dealt an equally compelling blow. More of the same is urgently required.
But to suggest an Israel Nash show is serious to the point of suffocation would be doing the engaging troubadour a disservice. As affable as he is affecting, the 38-year-old plays with a smile on his face and a glint in his eye and the genuine connection with his committed followers is laudable.
Rolling On, from 2018’s Lifted, showcased Nash’s remarkable versatility and Baltimore, culled from breakthrough long player Barn Doors And Concrete Floors, never sounded so reassuringly down to earth. And as for Eric Swanson’s dreamy pedal steel? Simply sensational.
Nash, of course, is a regular visitor to the UK but for Leslie Stevens this was a first trip to Britain. And with Neal Casal’s death (the Chris Robinson Brotherhood guitarist had committed suicide overnight) casting an obvious shadow over a hotly anticipated Newcastle debut, tension was running high during a tentative start.
Thankfully, the LA-based singer songwriter swiftly hit her stride and with the poignant Depression Descent under her belt it was time to relax. Sinner, the title track from this month’s critically acclaimed album release, reinforced the view that Stevens has potential to burn.
Persuading a tough Cluny crowd to add their backing vocals to It’s Ok To Trip (from Leslie And The Badgers’ 2010 album Roomful Of Smoke) was a small victory in itself. In fewer than 30 minutes Stevens had triumphed in the face of adversity and this small but mighty performer will surely be welcomed back with open arms the next time she drops by Tyneside.
Main image by Kris Wixom