A typical Friday night in London and unsurprisingly the streets are full of people with things to do and places to go. The London Bridge area is as good a place as any to experience the hustle and bustle of London life with seemingly every other doorway leading into a coffee shop, restaurant or pub, while the imposing 95-story Shard skyscraper looms overhead. Just up the road from London Bridge tube station, we find Omeara a bijou live venue (capacity 350) which opened in 2016 and is the brainchild of Ben Lovett (Mumford & Sons). After two or three near misses this is my first visit to Omeara and I’m immediately impressed with the venue hidden away in Flat Iron Square, an open courtyard type area with galleries, street food etc. The vibe is cool and hip but not annoyingly so, the door and bar staff proved friendly and the venue itself looks like a decaying regency ballroom as imagined by Universal Studios for ‘Poseidon’s Fury’.
Aaron Lee Tasjan is touring to promote ‘Karma Is Cheap’ his third album and he’s been making waves in the UK recently with ‘Ready To Die’ from his New West Records debut release ‘Silver Tears’ nominated for International song of the year at the 2018 UK Americana Awards. Aaron has been embraced by the UK Americana community and when he takes to the stage with his three-piece band it’s obvious that Aaron is among friends. During a recent conversation with Paul Spencer who helms the UK’s Maverick Festival. We discussed the wide range of music that gets labelled with the Americana tag. Be it country, soul, blues or what have you it really doesn’t seem to matter. Great music is great music, whatever the base genre (Paul and Maverick have done a great job over the years of pushing the boundaries). The advantage of the tag is it tends to attract people who want to actually listen to the music, buy records and go to shows. Artists get the opportunity to expand on their musical palate and the listener reaps the benefit.
I mention this because Aaron Lee Tasjan musical take on things mixes power pop intensity with a folky troubadour approach. His Beatles influences sitting comfortably alongside folky, almost Laurel Canyon moments, which in turn give way to extended bluesy guitar workouts. Tonight Aaron takes to the stage looking very dapper and oozing relaxed cool to back up his impressive vocal ability and guitar chops. Opening his set with an incendiary ‘The Dangerous Kind’ Aaron had the crowd in the palm of his hand as he and his excellent band switched up tempos and styles with ‘Memphis Rain’ one of many highlights. Aaron namechecked singer-songwriter Judee Sill and her relationship with label head David Geffen as the inspiration for the languid, Lou Reedesque ‘Judy Was A Punk’ while ‘Dream Dreamer’ highlights Aaron’s vocal dexterity with more than a hint of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ in the construction. This was in total contrast to the power of the preceding ‘Ready To Die’ which found the band firmly locked into a tight groove allowing Aaron to display his guitar prowess on an extended workout that highlighted mannerisms that bought to mind Prince in his prime. An obvious love of Tom Petty (who doesn’t?) is cemented by a terrific solo encore rendition of ‘The Waiting’ while an Aaron Lee Tasjan original ‘Heart Slows Down’ is probably one of the best songs Petty didn’t write but should have. Tonight Aaron Lee Tasjan and his band were fantastic, seemingly all over the place musically and stylistically yet remarkably cohesive, a very difficult trick to pull off which they managed with remarkable ease. I was already impressed with his recorded work but in a live setting Aaron Lee Tasjan is even more impressive, so I’d urge you to catch a show if you can.
A quick word on opener Loud Mountains consisting of American, but UK based, brothers Kevin and Sean Duggan who delivered an impressive set of Americana that reminded me of the more countrified moments of the BoDeans. The likes of ‘Borrowed Time’ and ‘Garden State’ showcased impressive harmonies and the addition of Jack (insert last name here…anyone?) on electric guitar to flesh out some of the tracks was a sound move. The guys even slipped in a nice cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rhiannon’ which was an interesting choice that worked well.