Over the last decade Steve Gunn has built his name as an innovative and accomplished guitarist. What’s not been so clearly highlighted is the fact that he is also a damn fine songwriter. Gunn’s 2019 album ‘The Unseen in Between’ certainly gave greater prominence to his songs, where in previous releases they sometimes seemed incidental to the music. Appearing in Manchester on the last date of his UK tour, Gunn’s set strongly reflected this change of emphasis. All nine songs from his new album were performed, sandwiched between acoustic opener ‘Wildwood’ and the final encore ‘Way Out Weather’, both taken from his 2014 album, of which the latter is the title track.
Much of the set was electric; Gunn switching regularly between Fender Stratocaster and Fender Jaguar. As well as being utilised for the opening song, the acoustic guitar was brought out twice more, for ‘Stonehurst Cowboy’ and for a spellbinding first encore of ‘Morning is Mended’. Although the new album is more commercial, or at least, more accessible, this did not restrict Gunn’s instinct to enter into long jams, particularly on ‘New Familiar’ and especially ‘Paranoid’ (no, not that one!). Despite the more defined emphasis on the songs, Steve Gunn is clearly not surrendering his guitar virtuoso reputation altogether. It was perhaps telling that when this reviewer requested a set list in advance of the show, it came back with not only the song titles, but also the guitar tunings for each one of them.
Manchester’s Deaf Institute, a fabulous small venue if you are not familiar with it, plays host to cult and niche artists who return regularly. It is also a springboard venue for acts progressing on to bigger things. Steve Gunn, with his latest album and superbly balanced live show, would appear to be crossing from the former, to the latter category. A mesmerised and appreciative crowd will welcome him back next time, but I suspect they will be joined by others at one of the city’s slightly larger venues.
Earlier in the evening, Papercuts, from San Francisco, on their first tour outside of the USA, entertained early arrivals with their catchy, toe-tapping indie-pop tunes. The band is really a showcase for singer-songwriter and producer Jason Robert Quever, who put out the first Papercuts album way back in 2004. Tonight’s set drew heavily from last year’s ‘Parallel Universe Blues’, the band’s sixth album release. They received a very warm reception and will hopefully be encouraged to return to these shores to play some full headlining shows in the not too distant future.