Margaret Glaspy - Hare and Hounds, Birmingham

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Margaret Glaspy plays a mean guitar and her music has a mean well meaning snarl to go with it. It shouldn’t surprise when musicians’ demeanours differ from their songs, and this musician’s California-raised sunshine quickly warms Birmingham’s beer-and-sweat sticky, unusually noisy, Sunflower Lounge. The basement room is small: in-the know crowd members pack the staircase for the best view as Glaspy mounts the stage struggling through the main floor that already loves her to death. Next time they’ll play the ‘Rocky’ theme tune.

Mean, and so precise, that Glaspy’s guitar is, the timbre of her voice can tell stories on its own, its granular huskiness recalling John Peel’s famous quote about real life being the surface noise (“mate”). If her words weren’t so damn good they’d be the icing on the cake. The storyteller, wearing a “War is Over” t-shirt under a snazzy gold blazer, with her drummer and bassist work through her universally acclaimed Emotions and Math album: ‘Memory Street’s loss that she can’t forget, the prick of ‘Pins and Needles’’s side-eye, her voice growling to tell ‘Parental Guidance’s story of respect at an early age, and wow, how she carries a tune in ‘Black and Blue’. Defining artists by others even with the get out clause “for explanatory purposes” is bad. Actually interesting is joining the dots between artists’ favourites: Glaspy covers hers as diverse as Lucinda Williams’ ‘Fruits of My Labor’ tantalisingly previewing her possible future, Björk with a super catchy – very different – ‘Who is It?’, and Lauren Hill’s ‘Ex-Factor’ reminisces on her sister buying The Miseducation... album then “listening to this track for the next four years every day” in their shared room: “I know this song pretty well!” She does, near silence respects her muted guitar, because it’s all about the voice.

There’s good types of live show noise – a friendly bustle amplifies an atmosphere – and bad like that generated by some of tonight’s weekend enthused, booze accelerated, crowd. At the back, friends chatter loudly, their recognition of the performer’s attendance relegated to whooping that’s involuntarily triggered by the pause after each song. This is increasingly really (really) pissing one man off until his temper ingloriously relieves itself in a spectacular series of meticulously delivered but not tightly aimed vulgarisms (Glaspy having to bat one: “I hope that wasn’t directed at me.”) before he storms out to sarcastic cheers. The sad thing is, Glaspy earlier calmed this tension with a President Obama meets President-elect Trump mannered address showing others respect after they’ve shown her nothing other than disrespect: “This isn’t meant to be rude in the least, but I will say this one thing. It’s a crazy crazy living as a musician to perform for you, and then for you to listen to us in these cherished minutes that we live for so badly each day. It’s the one part of the day we do what we have to do and it’s amazing. Thanks for showing up and giving us some time today, it means a lot. And we hope it means a lot to you too.”

Positives are too many to mention, including Glaspy sharing two presently untitled songs. They’re both stunners, in their antecedent arrangements bragging that voice so much in the first that the crowd can’t wait until she finishes to applaud, before a guitar solo to die for in the second. Bossily we hope she doesn’t tinker with either too much. Selfishly, Birmingham is twice the size of Manchester but its live reputation is twice as small and needs all the artists of Margaret Glaspy’s fantastic New York-based bluesy quality it can get. A dreary writers’ cliche used with permission because of genuine concern: please come back.



Setlist:

Emotions and Math
Pins and Needles
Parental Guidance
No Matter Who
Fruits of My Labor (Lucinda Williams cover)
Situation
Black is Blue
New song (untitled)
Ex-Factor (Lauren Hill cover)
You’re Smiling (But I Don’t Believe You)
I’d Rather Go Blind
You Don’t Want Me
New song (untitled)
Who is It (Björk cover)
Memory Street
Anthony
Love Like This
You and I
Somebody to Anybody

Read our interview with Margaret Glaspy.

Photo credit: Ebru Yildiz.

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