Joshua Burnside | Review

Joshua Burnside | Review

The Belfast Empire • Saturday 24 June ’17

By Gerard Walton • Photos: Tremaine Gregg

Joshua Burnside headlined a brilliant Saturday night of music at The Empire as he continued a successful year with a celebration of his acclaimed debut album Ephrata. The night as a whole covered a range of complementary styles featuring four acts.

Hungergrumps kicked things off with what they described as a rare acoustic set and, with half the duo having succumbed to sickness, had a stand-in on the bass. You’d never have guessed there were any challenging circumstances though, as they romped through a reverb-soaked string of enjoyable mid-tempo ditties. I’ll definitely be investigating their studio material.

Lauren Bird stripped things back even further, taking the stage with just her trusty ukulele for company, although she provoked the only dancing of the night, which would surely have dispelled any stage loneliness! She was promoting her album The Inbetween, and this was a great advert for it. ‘Goodbye, Good Luck’ and ‘Thing’s I’m Good At’ were set highlights, and Lauren’s jaunty melodies couldn’t help but bring a smile to the face.

Son Of The Hound brought the intensity levels right up, with the name acting as a moniker for Michael McCullagh. Michael is also a storyteller, and you could instantly tell, as his audience interaction was almost as good as the music – his introducing himself as Marv from Home Alone went down a treat. Google the two and you will see the resemblance. The band kicked things off with ‘IOU’, which is a wonderfully shambling country rocker. ‘Angie, Where Did Your Love Go?’, from the previous alias as Meb Jon Sol, was a more pop-rock style, and the set, split between the two styles, was a rousing one. It was a big-hearted performance that led perfectly into the main event.

Joshua Burnside was living a dream in headlining The Empire, he told the crowd soon into his set, and it was a performance befitting such an occasion. His recently released debut album Ephrata is such a meticulously crafted piece that you would have needed a bigger stage to faithfully recreate it, but a four-piece band of guitar, bass, trumpet and drums did a fine job. Songs like ‘Blood Drive’, of course, need only Joshua and his acoustic, and here we saw a stirring rendition.

*Photo: Thursday 01 June ’17

The aforementioned Ephrata album is one of the releases of the year so far, and while ‘Hollogram’ from it was missing Alana Henderson’s amazing harmonies on stage, it remained a set highlight. ’26th Street’, among others, also was a brilliant showcase for Sarah Martin’s trumpet, often underpinning a chorus or taking centre stage for a solo.

‘Black Dog Sin’ is an old staple of Joshua’s and it was a standout here, coming across like a ship helmed by a drunk captain – intensity ratcheting up to almost heavy metal levels at times, such is the dynamism at play here. Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst is a big influence on Joshua and it comes across in such moments.

Another influence, although perhaps confined to one song, is politics. ‘Red And White Blues’ was released earlier this year during the Assembly election campaign, and is a poignant rejection of the overbearing flag culture that surrounds him, even from his Protestant background. It got probably the biggest cheer of the night.

Ephrata album closer ‘The Good Word’ took on a new life on stage, with lyrics like “I might give up drinking … so much” getting some genuine laughs from the audience. For such emotional music, there’s always some light to go with the shade. That wry humour made its way to the encore, with the aptly-named ‘One More’ again seeing Joshua take to the stage solo to round off what was a first class evening. Headlining The Empire may have been a dream of his, but if his star continues to rise he may yet fulfil a few bigger dreams in the years to come.

*Photo: Thursday 01 June ’17

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