Omeara is a fairly new venue south of the river, not very far south, and in quite a hip area with a sizeable presence of pubs and cafes close by. Inside the performance space is bijou, with a capacity of around 350, and it’s well laid out with several slightly different levels ensuring pretty good sightlines. The decor is tastefully distressed – with the fresh paint work carefully replicating paintwork that has been scuffed up by the years of punters that have yet to pass through the doors. It makes sense from that point of view for Jonathan Wilson to be playing here – it suits the music, but it’s also a joyously small venue to see him in: even playing the Union Chapel had felt quite an “intimate” gig, so this is undeniably something special.
Idiyosyncratic opener Gamble is a friend of Wilson’s who had found himself on the tour when he’d been casually asked if he was doing anything for the next couple of weeks. Starting up by the bar, and fully acoustic, just served to emphasize the smallness of Omeara – as he strolled around playing and singing unplugged like a busker on the tube. An entertaining and self-deprecating singer-songwriter he undercut his own earnestness at every opportunity – forgetting and then ad-libbing words, hopping on and off the stage as the muse took him, and railing against squeeky feedback which was eventually traced down to being the hinge on the main door! Relaxed and relaxing, a perfect opening half hour of laid back and hippyish music – a fine taster of what the evening held.
Much has been made of Jonathan Wilson’s new direction on his latest album ‘Rare Birds’, but really it isn’t so very far from his earlier Laural Canyon influenced releases – a song like ‘Me’ could have fallen off either of his last two albums. ‘Trafalgar Square’ is somewhat different – but then if one signs on as Roger Walter’s guitar gunslinger for hire then it’s not all that surprising that a bit of the Pink Floyd / Roger Waters feel will rub off. As well as being the album opener it was also the opener for this gig, with the projected light show and films cutting across the faces of Wilson and his band it’s an impressive start to what would be an impressive gig. Although he occasionally takes over piano duties it is, of course, as a guitarist that Jonathan Wilson excels – several songs take on a heavy Crazy Horse feel as the five piece get deeply down into the groove. There’s even more of that Neil Young feel on ‘Rare Birds’ which features rapid changes of tempo, the song winding down to a different speed, which is so reminiscent of Young in his Buffalo Springfield days.
Jonathan Wilson is completely relaxed in this venue – getting side tracked into discussions with the crowd, centred in part on his American pronunciation as he muses on the years when he lived in Bermondsey, and enjoyed breakfast at a cafe just down the road from Omeara and laughing as he’s loudly corrected – “It’s a Caff!”. And it’s an openness that’s reflected on ’49 Hairflips’ which alongside his sexual predilections also reflects sadly that the on-line obsessed kids, viewing the world through screens that divorce them from reality, “will never rock again, a sign of the times”. Not everything is off ‘Rare Birds’ – ‘Desert Raven’ is a beautifully melodic highlight, pure perfection of tasteful soloing and a gentle evocation of the Californian deserts. It is without a doubt both fab and groovy. ‘Valley of the Silver Moon’ is the epic that it should be, and, just in case we’re having too much fun the first encore serves to bring us down to the ground again after a nearly two hour stratospheric trip: ‘Can We Really Party Today?’ asks Jonathan Wilson. On this song Wilson takes us tripping through a rural idyll, but then he pauses and challenges us “But hey…..can we really party today ? With all that’s going on ? Shouldn’t we get started today?” So, do we have the right to just be out having a good time, and not thinking about what’s going on? Hippy activism? Sure, perhaps – but haven’t we discussed before how hippy activism is preferable to just sitting on one’s hands? With promises that the next night wouldn’t be the same set for those few lucky enough to have tickets for both nights, Jonathan Wilson left behind an ecstatically happy crowd.