The Kennedys @Kings Place 24/05/13

5 stars (out of 5)

2

Maura and Pete at Kings Place (Photo by Allan McKay)

Very occasionally you go to a gig expecting to see a good show and you actually see a brilliant show; The Kennedys at Kings Place was one of those nights.  The venue is in a fairly new building behind Kings Cross Station and all of the staff make a real effort to ensure that the audience have a good time; that’s important, but it’s a very small part of tonight’s story.

I feel really guilty that I only heard of The Kennedys for the first time a few weeks ago when they’ve been writing and playing great songs for so long.  I reviewed the latest album “Closer than You Know” this week and it’s a great album which you should all have in your collection but, after tonight’s show, I think any true music fan should at least have a copy of their greatest hits package “Retrospective” in their collection as well.

The Kennedys live show is a perfect blend of musical talents; Pete is an incredibly good guitar player (more about that later) who also adds vocal harmonies to the mix while Maura is great country/folk/pop singer who is also a great rhythm guitar player, and that matters when it’s just two people, two guitars and two microphones up there.  Truly exceptional songs are the ones which stand up when you tear away all the layers of studio production and there were an awful lot of songs standing proud at this show.

Apart from the musicianship, which is exceptional, there are a lot of things to admire about The Kennedys.  They are very generous in their support for fellow songwriters, giving the audience some background (and usually a little anecdote) for most of their cover versions.  They engage with the audience, both on and off stage, and each one allows the other space to shine.  So, I’m guessing you might want to hear what they actually did.

The set started with a few old favourites featured on “Retrospective”, including “Life is Large”, “Breathe”, “Midnight Ghost” and “9th Street Billy”.  Each of the songs is given a spoken introduction to help give it a context in the show and to help build a rapport between the performers and the audience and this, combined with The Kennedys willingness to play requests, gives the evening the feel of a house party hosted by some very talented friends.  It certainly creates an intimate atmosphere.

The tour is partly in support of the recent (excellent) album, “Closer than You Know” and about half of the songs from the album are featured, including “Cradle to a Boat”, “I’ll Come Over”, “Marina Dream”, “Big Star Song” (thanks guys) and the U2 cover “Wild Honey”.  All of these songs shine in their stripped-down live arrangements and stand up well in comparison with the songs they perform by other songwriters such as Nanci Griffith (“Trouble in the Fields”), Dave Carter (“When I Go”) and John Stewart (“Jasmine”).  Pete and Maura are always generous in their praise for their fellow-writers and performers.

I might have mentioned that Pete is an incredibly good guitar player; his playing throughout is superb, but particularly during his solo instrumental pieces. Tonight he played a jazzy version of “Somewhere over the Rainbow”, a contemporary setting of the Bach piece “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” (with harmonics and fret-tapping, no less) and a version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” played on an Ovation ukulele which left me speechless and, trust me, that doesn’t happen often.

So add in the traditional English balled “Matty Groves” and the obligatory “Eight Miles High” and that’s just about it for the two sets apart from the anthemic, and very timely plea for tolerance and diversity, “Stand”. 

The Kennedys are very accomplished musicians who are completely comfortable with their performance and happy to mix with their audience during the intermission and after the show; they really deserve to be seen by a much wider audience.  This tour continues until Thursday 06 June, so you still have a chance to check them out.  You won’t regret it.