Live: Tom Brosseau at Wilton’s Music Hall

I knew ‘Perfect Abandon’ would sound at its best live: Tom Brosseau and band did not disappoint.

Wilton’s Music Hall played host to a beautiful evening of otherworldly country and folk, blending most of the new record with one or two cuts from preceding release ‘Grass Punks’, and a couple of other, older treats.  Everyone was on fine form, with the grand old venue itself adding an air of wistfulness and powerful history to the air.  Tom’s backing band were the same players from the record – David Butler on drums, Joe Carvell on double-bass and Ben Reynolds on strat – and that established chemistry burned brightly on stage.   

They opened tantalisingly with the neglected lover’s lament, ‘Cradle Your Device’, teasing us gently with a slow, long build up: thrum of bass, thump of drums, blinding flashes of reflected light from the head stock of Tom’s guitar before easing into that lovely couplet: “something has come between us and no, it ain’t what you think/this ain’t a case of infidelity pushing me to the brink.”

As expected, the live setting reveals the true heart of the record, from the warm, lascivious desirous beauty of ‘Landlord Jackie’ – “I wrote it for my landlord, called Jackie” – to the tender embrace of ‘Roll On With Me’ and the soulful, spiritual exhortations of ‘The Wholesome Pillars’.  Although I can’t say that I love ‘Empire Builder’ much better watching it on stage, this time it has no detracting effect on the overall effect of the set.

The fact is that all of the songs feel full, alive, pulsing with blood. And none more so than ‘Take Fountain’ which seems to become bigger and more essential every time I hear it. In the hall, it’s the one song where there everyone is sat straight, reverential in attention, transfixed by the loneliness, the sadness, the horror, the tension. I’d put this right up there with Bonnie Prince Billy’s ‘I See A Darkness’, another terrifying bolt of melancholy; Ben Reynolds’ stratocaster inflections sound like the approaching footsteps of the narrator’s doom.

Tom’s encore is a great treat.  He plays crowd-pleaser with a solo take on ‘Today Is A Bright New Day’ which, although it loses something of its structure live is received generously and gratefully by the audience. There’s a moment in the guitar solo where Brosseau got lost, snarled up in some frets he never meant to enter, but we lapped it up, this small mistake greater evidence of the humanity on offer.

There’s two songs from early albums – ‘Bars’ and the chilling tale of ‘How To Grow A Woman From The Ground’. The latter leaves an unsettling feeling on the crowd, some time after the song stops still trying to work out how to react to the voodoo recipe for cultivating a partner. Dead fishes whose fins are used to draw blood for the ritual, “the feeling at an old folks’ home”, and “the night was a chalkboard with a fingernail moon”.  Shiver.

Before we are in real danger of heading home muted and miserable, Tom steps down from the stage, away from the mic and, with support act Doug Tielli on trombone and Joe Carvell on the ‘bass, rollicked us through a wonderfully joyful old country tune, ‘Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar’.  What a way to send us all off into the night. Bravo, Brosseau and co.

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