Barry Adamson – Islington Assembly Rooms, London (3rd March 2016) – LIVE REVIEW

This Barry Adamson article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse. Photo by Ian Bourne.

Barry Adamson is here to play mainly new tunes. He could pick from a rich catalogue going all the way back to tracks by Magazine, arguably the first post-punk band, but then he’d have to play bass. Instead, he prefers to be upfront and centre stage, leaving the fretless bass at home. Some of the crowd think that’s a bit of a shame, as he’s a spectacularly good bass player. And there’s only one song from the old Magazine days, right at the end of the night.

Since Magazine, Adamson has long been one of the Bad Seeds, playing behind Nick Cave, but when he’s doing his own songs he revels in being the cool front-man, the shaven-headed showman in shades and a velvet jacket. The standout track from new album ‘Know Where To Run’ is first up this evening, the pacey, tight and multi-layered ‘Up In The Air’ – “If you’re a square, you ain’t nowhere, you think I care, you’re up in the air where nobody can getcha getcha, high, you think I lie, no baby we could fly”.

Another new one, ‘Cine City’, reveals one of Adamson’s abiding passions — cinema and film music. His first solo release was a soundtrack for an imaginary film noir, ‘Moss Side Story’, he is influenced by John Barry and he’s worked on movie music with legendary director David Lynch.

But he is focusing on cool songs with clever rhyming lyrics tonight, backed by a tight band of mainly white-haired musicians, whose age is matched by most of the crowd. Ska-tinged grudge song ‘You Sold Your Dreams’ (from ‘Stranger On The Sofa’, 2006) shows off a few of Adamson’s vocal tricks – deep bass-baritone, falsetto, key changes and mellifluous spoken word. ‘The Sun And The Sea’ (from ‘I Will Set You Free’, 2012) is another big, bold, well-crafted song. Adamson takes us on narrative journeys and genre style treks with ‘Evil Kind’, ‘Come Away’, ‘Claw And Wing’ and ‘Mr Greed’, all from the new album. After ‘Evil Kind’, he moves to his instrument — a red and black Nord Stage Eighty Eight, identical to his keyboard player’s. A full brass section would help whip up more of a party atmosphere, but Adamson has to make do with the mix of piano, organ and synth brass from the twin keyboards, plus guitar, bass and drums.

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‘Straight ’til Sunrise’ (from 2008’s ‘Back To The Cat’) is a blend of singer-songwriter crooning, jazz, and Broadway musical, making for a twisted show tune. “You guys are so cool,” Adamson says as he gets up from his keyboard and moves back to the front of the stage. Perhaps too cool, as he’d hoped for a bigger crowd and more of a reaction. New song ‘Death Takes A Holiday’ is “about recovering from incurable diseases”, but luckily sounds a bit like Kid Creole and the Coconuts. “London cool my arse,” Adamson quips afterwards. ‘Civilization’ and ‘The Beaten Side of Town’ also from ‘Back To The Cat’ end the main set, with Adamson doing a soft-shoe shuffle like a younger noir version of Tom Jones, and the crowd swaying around and wanting more.

The encores don’t disappoint. Old favourite ’Jazz Devil’ (from 1998’s ‘As Above So Below’) is wonderfully mashed up with Iggy Pop’s ‘Nightclubbing’, as a tribute to its producer and co-writer David Bowie. Adamson saw the Ziggy Stardust tour when he was 14 and it “transformed everything”, he says. The night ends with a cracking version of ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’ by Sly And The Family Stone, which Magazine covered on ‘The Correct Use Of Soap’ in 1980. It’s a great reminder of Adamson’s rich past, but also a timeless classic. Adamson may not have a huge following, and is best known for being a smart instrumentalist, but he’s surprisingly good at being himself as the frontman.