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Ron Sexsmith
Gig Review
Ron Sexsmith
Just last week Ron Sexsmith publicly shunned his 'cult' songwriter status by declaring he "writes songs for the radio". This aversion to what could be described as glorified obscurity is a reasonable one: over the course of twelve albums, Sexsmith has spent most of his career being widely acknowledged as one of his generation's finest songwriters, without experiencing much commercial success. Only now, thanks to a shrewdly timed documentary to coincide with the release of his much-feted Long Player Late Bloomer, does full-scale exposure seem likely. The question remains: how will this sudden outbreak of recognition translate live?

As if to emphasis Sexsmith's recent comments, the turnout tonight consists almost exclusively of middle-aged couples - in other words, pretty much the opposite of your standard "cult songwriter" crowd. And so much the better for it, it seems, as an almost packed house lap up Liverpudlian songstress Delta Maid's revelatory blues (one part Jeremy Kyle, two parts Patsy Cline) before rapturously greeting Sexsmith and his band when they take to the stage. Surely no amount of "culty" beard stroking could improve on this reception.

And so it goes: launching straight into the jubilant 'Heart's Desire', forty-seven year old Sexsmith commands complete attention from the start, grasping virtually every opportunity to interact with the audience and even meekly apologising for a performance he gave in Belfast a few years back. Unsurprisingly, unwarranted self-deprecation and polite disagreement follows before 'Get In Line' and 'The Reason Why' - two textbook instances of the aforementioned "made-for-radio" slant - get things safely underway.

Moving confidently through an era worth of songs, Sexsmith effortlessly proves himself to be a highly versatile and intuitive performer. Indeed, with note-perfect assistance from a first-rate backing band - including possibly the most animated keyboardist alive - his uncanny knack for crafting timeless melodies around simple themes is undeniable throughout. Most impressively, though, songs such as 'That's Just My Heart Talking' and the Dylanesque 'Gold In Them Hills' define precisely why the likes of Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney have been namedropping him for years.

With that in mind, it's when the Canadian is left to perform a handful of songs on his own that his real perceptive flair come to light. When 'Tomorrow In Her Eyes', 'Heavenly' and the crushingly heartfelt 'Nowadays' are segued in quick succession, the crowd are fully exposed to Sexsmith's uniquely charming craft. He may cut the pose of a moody twenty-five year old in his trademark, tangled mop, but these songs - with a little help from a maroon smoking jacket - reveal a veteran musician with an absolute wealth of songwriting experience.

At the end up, whether with help from Feist's cover version or otherwise, 'Secret Heart' receives the biggest applause of the night, whilst a high-spirited encore featuring 'Lebanon, Tennessee' ensures a memorable conclusion. For a man due to play Glastonbury the following evening, and with a feeling of imminent - not to mention much-deserved - exposure in the air, Ron Sexsmith's extremely intimate performance tonight could well be one to remember.

Brian Coney

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Gig Details
Venue: Spring and Airbrake
Location: Belfast
Date: 24/6/2011

+ Listen to Ron in session for ATL

Related Links
+ Ron Sexsmith
+ Delta Maid