Jonathan Wilson, Islington Assembly Hall | reviews, news & interviews
Jonathan Wilson, Islington Assembly Hall
Jonathan Wilson, Islington Assembly Hall
Few answers from America’s one-man embodiment of the early Seventies
It took two minutes for Jonathan Wilson to launch into the first of the evening’s extended guitar solos. “Love Strong” began like much of his two-hours-ten-minutes on stage. The song opened with him singing a verse and then flying off to guitar heaven. His playing is classic, evoking but not mimicking John Cipollina, Jerry Garcia, Stephen Stills and Neil Young. But it raises a conundrum: is Wilson about the songs or the craft? The former are fabulous, melodic and memorable. The latter fluid and phenomenal. Judging by the in-song applause as solos subsided, much of the audience had decided it was about the guitar.
There’s a lot to dig. Not just because of the epic-length set
Another puzzle with Wilson is whether pass grades in rock history are required to get on board with this take on record-collector rock. His music is rooted in post-psychedelic California of the early Seventies. It could be from the California of the early Seventies. His songs are frequently incredible; classics you’ve never heard before – actually fully formed and instantly impactful compositions in the mould of all his entire being represents. A band like Quicksilver Messenger Service, whose Cipollina he’s obviously studied hard, never had songs this good.
Although yet another of today’s generic-looking male beardies, his path isn’t being followed by anyone else. Despite moments which look beyond that era – the live “Love to Love” had a Travelling Wilburys bounce and swing – he’s frozen in time. Much of the audience wasn’t that young, but it wasn’t that old either. Perhaps a life surrounded by shelves of mellow, self-absorbed albums isn’t necessary to dig Wilson.
And there’s a lot to dig. Not just because of the epic-length, 14-song set which drew from recent album Fanfare, his debut Gentle Spirit and gave an outing to the unrecorded “Angel”. The encore featured Gentle Spirit’s title track and a cover of Happy Traum’s “Trials of Jonathan”. Stripped of the layers and polish of their studio takes “Illumination” and “Dear Friend” were inevitably more immediate but also less dense. They floated headily, with Wilson equally inevitably exercising his fingers. Material from Gentle Spirit assumed new skins. “Desert Raven” was contrapuntal and affecting, “Magic Everywhere” grand and soaring. Jason Borger (keyboards), Richard Gowen (drums), Dan Horne (bass) and Omar Velasco (guitar) – all of whom were on Fanfare – were more than sidemen. Horne’s rumble practically nailed the songs to the floor.
The show exposed Wilson as a surprisingly diffident performer
The final show of a series of sold-out British dates, this was about reconfiguring his songs for a more immediate delivery, the outing exposed Wilson as a surprisingly diffident performer. He’s not brimming with personality and obviously prefers guitars and songs as his means of whipping a crowd up, even though he did start off a small clap-along.
Yet whatever his tippy-toe showmanship and synergy with those sharing the stage, Wilson is essentially a solo artist. Despite the presence of Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Graham Nash, members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers and odd contributions from musicians beyond those on stage, Fanfare was pretty much a one-man band effort. As well as being a prolific collaborator, Wilson is also a producer and as successful with himself as others. The album sounded like the work of a band. Taking him in live would answer yet another question: whether he could bring it to the stage? In the event, he did. In grand style too. But as to those other questions about his nature and how to approach his art, Wilson isn’t offering anything.
Watch Jonathan Wilson perform Quicksilver Messenger Service’s “Just for Love”
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