‘so laid-back as to make Evan Dando look like an uptight control freak‘ – Neill Dougan on John Murry’s gig in the Pepper Cannister Church on Sunday 23rd February Like many Irish people, having to step inside a church produces in your correspondent deep-seated feelings of revulsion, shame, guilt and fear (and I’m not even Catholic). Of course it eases the pain somewhat that Dublin’s Pepper Canister is so damn pretty. It’s also somehow an appropriate venue for Tupelo troubadour John Murry to continue in his ongoing quest for spiritual redemption through his yearning Americana. So, gritting our teeth and girding our loins, we take a deep breath and step over the threshold.
It’s not so bad, actually. The church is charming, albeit the seating arrangement is less than ideal (the numerous pillars making for a restricted view, and those pews are torture on the arse). But such concerns are forgotten when Murry and his cohorts appear, bathed in celestial blue light. It’s an ethereal setting, but much of the music is anything but: in a live setting, Murry’songs – elegant and delicate on record – often take on a raucous, punkish bluster, perhaps best exemplified by tonight’s high-octane rendering of ‘Penny Nails’. Elsewhere, ‘Southern Sky’ is completely reworked, its first half given a slowed-down, graceful makeover, before the second half of the tune explodes into a noisy, amped-up finale. Well-received outings for ‘Photograph’ and ‘California’ are more faithful to their recorded versions. Throughout, Murry’s voice is a full-throated roar, as epitomised by a passionate rendition of ‘¿No Te Ganas De Reir, Sénor Malverde?’ and promising new track ‘Glass Slipper’.
The man himself is quite the character, his stage persona so laid-back as to make Evan Dando look like an uptight control freak. His mumbly banter is entertaining, if often borderline indecipherable, and reaches its apogee as he introduces ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’, telling the audience that it’s about getting a phone call from his wife (while having dinner with Tom Waits, no less) to tell him their home had gone up in flames: “People think I took the title from the film or from Low…but my house actually burned down! Fuck those guys!”
The highlights of an arresting, loose-limbed performance come at the very beginning and end of the evening: opener ‘The Ballad Of The Pajama Kid’ is stately and elegiac, while the closer – epic ten-minute overdose ballad ‘Little Coloured Balloons’ – sees the house lights dimmed and Murry howl the song’s tortured closing lyrics in atmospheric near-darkness.
Having aired ‘Maria’s Little Elbows’ by Sparklehorse earlier in the set, the encore sees Murry & co offer up two more covers, Dylan’s ‘Most Of The Time’ and a chaotic, ramshackle (but charming) closing rendition of The Band’s classic ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’. Not quite a religious experience, then. But definitely the most fun you can have in a church without breaking out the altar wine.