Live Review: Robbie Cavanagh and Georgia van Etten, Green Note, London – 27th October 2023

Robbie Cavanagh’s current tour has been heavily North England focused so it’s a pleasure to see him playing in Camden Town (not his first gig at this intimate and always welcoming venue) after doing his cultural bit for the Levelling Up agenda. This autumn tour is to promote latest album ‘Tough Love’, his third, which is themed broadly around what the title implies. He has a full band with him tonight and the, let’s say, compact Green Note stage is quite a squeeze with the full drum kit set up.

Cavanagh’s statements on record show him as setting himself outside any particular musical genre and as the set unfolds one can see why, as he covers the gamut from southern soul to singer-songwriter to gritty rock band – indeed, sometimes all within one song. There’s a classy musical kinship with The Band through several songs.

Thinkin Of Leaving’ is a punchy opener, in which Cavanagh’s smooth vocal timbre has hints of Gerry Rafferty – “If you’re thinkin’ of leaving/get up and go” is right in line with the tough love theme – whilst second song ‘Another Dead End’, with its message “Well I almost loved you back” reworks and flows from the to-die-for riff of Tom Petty’s ‘Last Dance For Mary Jane’. Many of the songs take the tensions and evolution of relationships as their source material and usually the drama comes from these imperfections.

The full band ensemble adds vastly to the set’s clout, with the backing vocals enriching the sound, and Thomas Dibb on lead guitar leaves an impressive stamp on many songs, whilst Cavanagh is on acoustic throughout, with Dan Wiebe on drums and percussion and Mark Lewis on bass.

The tempo is dialled back on ‘Love Comes Quickly’ in which “Sowing seeds is easy/but it’s hard to watch them grow.” ‘Drove’ has a tremendous melody, the jangling guitars weaving together. Later in the set ‘I Call My Home’ is in similar classic rock style whilst Mr Dibb takes a classy solo on ‘Feels Good’, as befits his nomination for AMA musician of the year.

Get Out Alive’ takes place in a cathedral and picks out the tensions of two people when “You’ll make a joke and I won’t get it anymore.” Cavanagh’s chat between songs is affable, humble and concise. He describes how the venue’s somewhat constrained changing facilities mean he has had to put his mechanic’s overall (the group’s chosen gig attire) over his day jeans and is feeling rather hot. Promoting the merch on offer he jests “Don’t buy one just out of pity. Actually, do buy one out of pity…

Greetings From Paradise’ is a covid co-write with Howard Rose (who is in the audience), the shared work done remotely during lockdown. ‘Helpless’ is the polished lead single from the album but held back until the penultimate song. It’s stylish southern soul with Allman Brothers-like guitar flourishes.

Dispensing with the rituals around encore protocols the band close with ‘Choked Up’, Cavanagh refraining “What if I entertain you” which he has done, excellently, throughout his 14 song set. It’s an admittedly cliched comment but still worth mentioning (because it’s applicable!) that Cavanagh’s quality should surely appeal to a far wider audience and enable him to headline in larger venues.

The opening act was Georgia van Etten, a surname of musical resonance, who is a London resident of nine years having crossed the world from Geelong in Victoria, Australia. She has music steeped in her upbringing via parental influences and she is a neat fit prior to the headliner. She serves up a melting pot of roots, soul and blues within an over-too-quickly quintet of songs and majors on material from her next album. Opener ‘Emma Lee’ is a well-crafted southern soul influenced song imploring the subject to “Know yourself/you can’t do that through me”. Next up was ‘Bordertown’ which is perhaps the standout, lyrically dense and a poignant reminiscence of her home town at age seventeen. Gesticulating with her free arm, she fully inhabits the songs’ emotions. She closes with a jazzy composition, emphasised by her doing an extended and impressively on point mouth trumpet piece. Also worth checking out but kept on the reserve list tonight is her excellent ‘Deep Black Water’.

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Alan Peatfield

Thanks for the “heads up” review, David. We get to see him on Saturday at Kirton Lindsey, Lincs.