Live: James Kelly + Walton Hesse + Emanuel & The Fear

This was just what the doctor ordered on a bank holiday Sunday – an evening of wonderful music in a wonderful little venue (one of Manchester’s gems, and quickly becoming one of my favourite places), the Dulcimer in Manchester’s Organic Quarter, Chorlton-cum-hardy.

After a very disorganised start to the show (now free, as nobody was there to collect our golden coins..) involving a lineup shift around, a sound engineer who looked either confused or hungover (possibly both) and no distinguishable transition between soundcheck and the start of the show, the music began one way or another and first up were a band I’d never heard of, Walton Hesse. We were told acoustic flamenco-blues maestro James Kelly was supposed to be on first, but hey-ho, let’s roll with it and get a Guinness in.

Walton Hesse take their infuences from the dirty americana blues/country rock of the late 90’s, when bands like Lucero and Whiskeytown were in their heyday, as well as earlier pioneers such as the seminal Uncle Tupelo. In fact, parts of their set sounded a lot like A Ghost Is Born-era Wilco, with lovely guitar/piano extended solos. Walton Hesse really, really dig Jeff Tweedy, it seems. Which isn’t a bad thing, Tweedy rocks.

The combination of loud balls-out rock n’ roll, alt.country pearlsnap twang and softer more experimental improvisational solos works well for Walton Hesse and I’ll definitely go and see them again. One thing though – I’m really not sure what purpose the female vocalist has. Couldn’t hear her and she seemed to just stand there hitting a tambourine for the whole show. Kind of like a non-cool Joel Gion. This may well have been down to the dodgy sound though, so for this I’ll reserve judgement until I see them again (which I definitely will).

Next up was James Kelly, whom I first met a couple of months ago while doing a radio interview and was instantly captivated. Combining blues riffs with flamenco rhythm on a spanish guitar, with percussion provided by hitting a kickdrum pedal against a guitar case, there’s nobody quite like him. He is, as one very drunk guy proclaimed last night, “fucking wicked!”

Can’t really disagree with that. The future is bright for James, and he did really well last night – it’s never easy for an acoustic act to go on after a loud rock & roll band – he coped and grabbed everyone’s attention brilliantly. He should’ve been on first though.

Emanual & The Fear are from Brooklyn. In fact, they couldn’t possibly be from anywhere else. They look like a school chamber group gone bad. Cello, flute and violin is paired up with metal guitars and manic drumming to create a sound that is loud yet orchestral, epic, and easily transferrable to a larger stage. They are a big band who deserve a big show. Cue the drunk guy again “Yeah! Go Brooklyn!”. They’re not a metal band, they’re not a chamber pop band, they’re not an orchestral Spiritualized or Arcade Fire-type band. I have genuinely not heard anything quite like it before. You’ll just have to go and see them. I hope they’re back soon.

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