Kevin Devine: Live review

April 8, 2014, Article by Beau Merchant in Live reviews, Music

Paddy reviews Kevin Devine’s superb gig at The Lexington in Islington, 4th February…

Kevin Devine’s show at the Lexington was originally billed as a show with his backing band, The Goddamn Band – an exciting prospect in light of their album, Bubblegum, released with Kevin last year. Kevin also released an accompanying album, Bulldozer, with both albums being funded by one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns for music in the history of the site. Having declared both of these albums to be my favourite records of last year, I was really excited to see Kevin come and play his blistering new songs with the band, having last seen them play at the Borderline in 2012.

So I was a little disappointed when I heard that, due to the difficulty of making a tour outside his native US viable with the full band, the show would now be a solo show. And then I remembered it was a Kevin Devine show.

With or without a band to back him up, Kevin Devine always puts on a great show, a fact known by every single person in the sold-out crowd the filled the Lexington early in the evening for opening act Katie Malco. Katie is also a singer-songwriter who shines with or without her backing band, and her smartly written melancholy love songs held the audience enraptured from the word go as she appeared solo, playing a right-handed Telecaster left-handed and with beautiful tone and chiming chords.

Kevin Devine took to the stage unassumingly and was greeted with the whoops of affection and excitement that only a loyal fanbase, built through hard work and a fifteen-year career of great record following great record, can produce. Kevin’s gratitude for and emotional connection with his fans felt genuine and was more than a little infectious, as he allowed himself to be pleasantly surprised by spontaneous singalongs by the audience and engaged in small talk with the audience about the new records, touring Europe and the possibility of Limp Bizkit’s DJ Lethal appearing out of the blue in the DJ booth at the side of the stage to ruin the show. That didn’t happen, thankfully.

What did happen was that I didn’t think, for a second, about the absence of the band. The energy and intensity of Kevin’s live performance outweighed the absence tenfold, and many of the songs were performed in altered ways that made them perfect for a live show. Even the high-speed political punk rock song “Fiscal Cliff,” which Kevin acknowledged might sound odd on an acoustic guitar, sounded great. Kevin’s songs are often political (another example was “Private First Class,” written about US whistleblower Chelsea Manning), and to see these songs performed with conviction was incredibly powerful; but equally moving were the songs with lyrics more personal in tone, such as the surprisingly romantic “Matter of Time.” Kevin covered all bases with his setlist, mixing old and new material well and responding to a crowd request for an Elliott Smith cover. The crowd was also free of the incessant chatting that often ruins acoustic shows, so every song fell upon appreciative ears.

There wasn’t an encore, but it wasn’t necessary – Kevin’s usual final song, Ballgame, is a long and inspiring one about, in his words, “trying to get your shit together,” and I (along with the rest of the crowd) hung on its every word, leaving uplifted and sure that the show was worth enduring the tube strike and walking home in the rain for. Let’s hope Kevin comes back soon.

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