Israel Nash proved tonight that not only can he rock out with the best of them, but his big musical sound also draws from the desert folklore of that part of Dripping Springs in Texas where he currently resides that’s the inspiration for so much of his muse nowadays. Opening with ‘Rolling On,’ the first track from latest album, ‘Lifted,’ its appeal is as immediate as it is on the record – the swell of pedal steel growing throughout this singalong number, its warm harmony vocals leading to a stirring climax. It’s towards the end of this song that you realise why Israel Nash has been receiving glowing praise on this tour – the band immediately locking onto a groove that demonstrates the harmony at the heart of this outfit.
While the Scala in Kings Cross is the biggest venue Nash has played so far in the UK, his is an epic sound broad enough to accommodate venues on an even larger scale. While he’s straining a bit to reach some of the higher notes on the otherwise instantly melodious ‘Lucky Ones,’ by the time we reach the introduction to the rootsy ‘Rexanimarum,’ that’s soon forgotten, with the band firing on all cylinders. On this number, Nash’s finger wagging is not dissimilar to that of a manic preacher, his leonine frame shaking from side to side as he wrings out the words to the song with maximum physicality. All the while he’s accompanied by inspired soloing from Roger Sollenberger and some wonderful pedal steel from Eric Swanson.
With one notable exception, it’s a set drawn almost entirely from his last two albums, which demonstrates Nash’s growing maturity and confidence in his songwriting ability. How much of this creativity is accounted for by his relocation to the hills of Texas may be debatable but the material drawn from ‘Rain Plains’ and ‘Lifted’ shows Nash taking a fresh perspective on life, his soundscape benefiting from the big sky vistas of these new surroundings.
Although the song ‘Sweet Springs’ shows that his heart is now very much located in Texas, he still looks out to Laurel Canyon for inspiration, which is demonstrated in ‘LA Lately,’ this harmony-soaked, sunburnt epic once again backed up with some magnificent work from Sollenberger on lead guitar. Meanwhile, the ‘Northwest Stars (Out of Tacoma)’ help illuminate “the blues lights on the highway” which feature in follow up song, ‘Who In Time,’ the join between both numbers barely noticeable.
While Nash is not outwardly political in much of his songwriting, the anthemic ‘Mansions’ – in which he talks about sticking it to the man – contains even more tremendous guitar playing that gradually builds the slow, moody mellow feel of the song towards a crescendo on a tale somewhat reminiscent of Neil Young’s ‘Cowgirl In The Sand.’ It also acts as a suitable precursor to the first encore of the night, CSN&Y’s ‘Ohio,’ which in its modern interpretation feels more necessary and prescient by the day. It receives an appropriately enthusiastic audience response but is still eclipsed by the final number, ‘Rain Plains,’ which again starts out slowly but gradually builds the song’s tempo, both Nash and Sollenberger almost doubled up upon each other, trading licks as the song reaches its climax. As a way to conclude matters it represents the pinnacle of a great bunch of musicians rocking out together – instinctively aware of how each of them are performing. Brilliant, classic, and timeless.
One of the abiding thoughts I had on conclusion of tonight’s performance could be summed up by the Italian term ‘simpatico’ – the feeling of mutual and reciprocal positive feeling between people. It’s clear that Israel Nash wants us to share his vision as he makes reference to the need for mutual understanding on a number of occasions throughout his set. He implores those in attendance “to be with me and the guys,” and we’re also told how our active participation means “we’ll all be together in this moment.” If a cynic might be inclined to see this as some form of new age hippie spiritualism, the take away from tonight is still overwhelmingly the shared feeling and intuitive grasp that Nash and his band have forged with one another. The ‘Lifted’ album has clearly taken Nash onto a higher plane and he now has a growing audience prepared to accompany him on this journey.
Getting into the venue around the time the Treetop Flyers opened for Israel Nash meant missing out on an earlier set from Brent Cowles, so it was good to see both support acts feature during Israel Nash’s encores.
The Treetop Flyers showcased their new, self-titled release on the label they share with Israel Nash, Loose Records. ‘Warning Bell’ opened up their set, its bluesy soul elements also having a degree of southern rock influence, while the strong vocal harmonies of the band are a constant feature, the band led by chest beating lead vocalist Sam Beer.
Highlights from their short, 25 minute set included ‘Needle,’ featuring a lengthy sax solo from Geoff Thomas Widdowson, along with stand out song from the new album, the lengthier, ‘The Art of Deception,’ which comically morphed into the theme tune from the Jungle Book at the end.
The use of brass in the band has definitely helped broaden the Londoners’ sound away from the somewhat inevitable comparisons made previously to acts such as America and CSNY – and in a direction more towards a country-soul fusion redolent of Danny and the Champions of the World. Their eponymously titled new album doesn’t represent so much a case of back-to-the-start for the band, but is more of an evolution in sound that more properly represents the band at their best.
Thanks to David Handley for the use of his excellent photos