Thursday, May 31, 2012

James McCartney performs at the Coach House

My review was originally posted on The Orange County Register's Soundcheck blog on May 30, 2012. Special thanks to Bob Steshetz for the use of his fantastic photos.

Live review: James McCartney at the Coach House

There was an understandable curiosity that attracted many to James McCartney‘s first-ever Orange County performance Tuesday night at the Coach House. The good news is that the son of Sir Paul was up to the challenge, showcasing his freewheeling style and winning low-key personality across a rewarding 16-song set.

Decidedly reserved compared to his famous dad, there is no doubt McCartney shares the same enthusiasm for crafting songs that defy genre pigeonholing and thus demand serious listeners be prepared for a fascinating ride.

Backed by a strong four-man outfit, McCartney opened things with a slow blues-rock solo on electric guitar before the song “New York Times” kicked into high gear. It was the first of many times throughout the show that McCartney exhibited his top-tier talents on six strings, but ultimately it was his songs and far-reaching tenor (which draws no natural comparisons to Paul’s) that really impressed.

Between numbers he was personable and often gave straightforward details on the origins of specific tunes. His sly arrangements of them thankfully revealed much more. “I Only Want to Be Alone” unfolded with his stirring voice positioned amid an infectious drum beat and layers of guitars. Even more ambitious and affecting songcraft followed, particularly the huge soundscape that defined “Glisten” and the folk rock-to-symphonic surge unveiled in “My Friend.”

There were times where the experimental approach wasn’t needed: On the piano-anchored “Fallen Angel” and an emotive, largely faithful version of Neil Young’s “Old Man,” McCartney and company wisely used the power of the songs and instrumentation to carry the moment.

Fans eager to see where McCartney’s sound comes closest to mining his father’s may have heard a bit of Wings in the rollicking rocker “Spirit Guides.” But his overall feel is admittedly closer to sonic heroes like Robert Smith (note the neo-goth-rock of “Denial” and the haunting “Cherry Blossom Hailstorm”) and Radiohead (as on “Else and Else But Dead,” with McCartney’s use of shimmering guitar harmonics enriching the song).

The show ended with another surprise: Rather than indulge a rocking finale, McCartney came back for the encore to perform the poignant “Wings of a Lightest Weight,” a beautiful acoustic song he wrote for his late mother Linda that displays the tenderness and warmth that marks so many of his father’s finest material.

Setlist: James McCartney at the Coach House, San Juan Capistrano, May 29, 2012

Main set: New York Times / Moonstar / I Only Want to Be Alone / Glisten / The Sound of My Voice / My Friend / Fallen Angel / Spirit Guides / Denial / Mix / Erratic Pulses / Old Man (Neil Young cover) / Cherry Blossom Hailstorm / Angel / Else and Else But Dead

Encore: Wings of a Lightest Weight

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