In my humble opinion, the part that a venue plays in the experience and enjoyment of any gig is vastly underrated. I mean, we’ve all been in those sweaty bars that while uncomfortable, help to make a memorable and electric atmosphere. Equally, we’ve all been to larger stadiums where things can feel very sterile and disconnected. So, when I saw that the CMA Songwriters series featuring Randy Houser, Angaleena Presley, Eric Paslay and Michael Tyler was coming to St. George’s Hall in Liverpool, I was quietly excited to finally get to see the inside of the grand building that I’d passed by so many times during my years living in and around Liverpool. And disappointing, it was not.
You’ve likely seen the outside of the building used in any number of films and TV shows over the past decade or so (in ‘Peaky Blinders’ and the first ‘Fantastic Beasts’ film for example, but the exterior will also double for Gotham in ‘The Batman’ coming 2022), but the inside really is quite spectacular. I think Presley said it pretty well when she commented that she thought she’d just throw on a baseball cap and jeans for the show, not realising she’d be in a “freakin’ ballroom”. The part the event was held in was a simply stunning hall, all mirrors and gilded neo-Grecian columns, all adding an air of magic to a cold October evening. It should be noted it was a seated event, and the crowd watched the whole thing with a kind of quiet, respectful reverence, that going by the frequent comments I’ve heard from US artists over the years, is something uniquely British that most of them seem to really enjoy, here included.
But this wasn’t just a special event for me due to the venue, it also doubled as my first time seeing a songwriter round. I’ll admit that Presley was the reason I was there – having been introduced to her via Pistol Annies in the early-00s, I rooted out her solo music and fell in love with her honest songwriting. We were treated to six songs by each artist (Presley for example performed ‘Unhappily Married’ and ‘Lemon Drop’ by the Annies, along with ‘Bless My Heart’, ‘American Middle Class’, ‘Outlaw’, and ‘Wrangled’), and while I was initially unfamiliar with the other artists to various levels (Houser and Paslay I knew of, while Tyler was completely new to me), hearing the stories behind the accompanying songs they performed was no less enthralling.
Houser’s singing voice bellowed throughout the hall (Presley rightly stated he was one of the best vocalists she’d ever heard), while Pasley’s performance was a little more understated in strength, and Tyler – clearly in awe of the talent he was on stage with, having only recently broken through via getting a song recorded by Dierks Bentley – was a little nervous but still charming in his way. And all of this in an extravagant, historical and immaculately kept venue.
Can a great venue make up for a terrible show? No chance. But can a good show be made unforgettable by a great venue? Undoubtedly.