Will Hoge + Curran, Night & Day, Manchester, 11th July 2019

So, the Australian minx, Kylie was playing the other side of town at the same time as this lot trooped in. Tremendously entertaining apparently, with glitter bombs, dance troop, synchronised light show etc. Also, no doubt, sequenced tapes, click tracks, covering backing singers. Colourful, fun, singalongs, a real show. But not a gig. Four people walking onto a stage, plugging in, frets raised, count of four and with a crash we are immediately lifted and off we go, that’s a gig.

First though we had Curran, which is Mark Curran plus accompanist. Curran is from New Jersey and his super confident stage presence has a little of The Boss to it. With a powerful voice and the duelling acoustics chiming nicely, it’s a promising sound. Curran probably asked “How are you doing Manchester?” more times than Kylie, and was in no way fazed by the polite responses from a still filling cafe, continuing to perform throughout as if he was headlining an arena. Which is where he might get if he had more distinctive songs, a point emphasised almost cruelly when Will Hoge launched his incendiary set with ‘Better Than You’. Night & Day Cafe gigs are normally known for three things: wonderful sound, constant chatter at the back and lack of air-con. The first was reinforced from the starting chord, where it was obvious the mix was perfect. The second was negated by Hoge playing loud and relentless. The third though got to Hoge, and he had to request a fan be brought out, which he joked made him “feel like Celine Dion.” Hoge has two decades of product to draw from and played from the full range, including indulging some obscure album track requests. His exemplary band (super tight rhythm section and young gun guitarist) powered through song after brilliant song, obviously enjoying being rock’n’roll as much as country. ‘Even If It Breaks Your Heart’ is thrown in like any other song, which considering it got him a Grammy nom and went multi-platinum for the  Eli Young Band, shows the strength of his set. Unusually on this occasion, there was no polemic from the stage. In recent years, Hoge has gained as much attention for his blunt targeted political lyrics, which for a Nashville artist is brave and possibly career impeding? On previous gigs here he has mentioned the Dixie Chicks effect if you dare to criticise the USA, but tonight he just let the songs speak for themselves. So ‘Gilded Walls’, ‘Oh Mr. Barnum’, ‘Nikki’s A Republican Now’ and more from his latest excoriating album ‘My American Dream’ were all blasted out with no intro or discussion, letting the lyrics speak for themselves. Long before the end, being in such a close venue with these master craftsman of music felt like a privilege. For an encore he jumped on the bar to sing without a mic, which certainly silenced the back, then the band launched into the glorious ‘Middle Of America’. A proper gig.

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