“Nice shirt”, Steve Gunn smiles and says to a bloke in the audience who is sporting a floral number, not dissimilar to his own. An understated warmth emanates from this American singer-songwriter and his meandering folk-rock, and it bathes The Bodega during his show tonight.
Philadelphia-born, Brooklyn-based and supremely gifted at the guitar, Gunn’s career has been steadily blossoming over the past decade, his virtuosic fingerstyle playing and ruminative sound making recent room for unfeigned, glowing vocals. With several albums, EPs and plenty of collaborations to his name, Gunn released The Unseen In Between earlier this year on Matador Records, an expansive set of songs beautifully imbued with reverb and spirit.
Album opener New Moon is a mellifluous folky gem, delivered by Gunn tonight with an acoustic guitar and harmonica-holder combo - proper Neil Young style. He is joined on stage by his band - guitarist Will Kidman, bassist Tommy Denys and drummer Erik Heestermans - and together they come into full force on Vagabond, a wandering, breezy and brilliant track surveying human empathy through a hazy rock lens.
Gunn’s mastery of his different guitars is damn right mesmerising. He regularly switches it up between his electric acoustic, pearlescent pink Stratocaster and olive green Jaguar, and there’s a connection between the man and the instrument that’s at times reverential. Yet it doesn’t detract from the vocals one jot; Gunn’s voice equally has me in raptures, its shimmering softness and texture mingling idyllically with his halcyon riffs all day long, but with particular oomph on Chance, and with solitary dejection on Stonehurst Cowboy.
And just as we’re lulled into a golden comfort zone this evening, Gunn pushes us on through into a heavy and exhilarating cosmos with several periods of performative jamming. These passages of sheer noise on New Familiar and Lightening Field punctuate the set with a crushing, spontaneous and wilful spirit, marking Gunn as one of the most electrifying performers around. It’s a scene reminiscent of Sonic Youth, delightfully grungy but never losing its way. Gunn brings us back down to earth every time with his taming of the six-string; classy and captivating stuff.
No wonder the crowd call for not one, not two, but three encores tonight. Gunn graciously obliges with a stunning solo rendition of Morning Is Mended, followed by 2014’s Way Out Weather - a final chance to escape into Gunn’s sweeping psychedelic wilderness. He appears genuinely humbled by this audience’s hunger tonight, which is emblematic of Steve Gunn as a songwriter and performer; quietly ravenous, pouring everything into it without a single ounce of ego – just insatiable flair.
Steve Gunn played at The Bodega on Tuesday 27 August 2019
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