Sitting down with Josh Rouse prior to this evening’s show at Leaf’s shabby-chic upstairs venue in Liverpool’s hip Bold Street, the Nebraskan singer-songwriter explains why his records from 2003’s 1972 onwards appear to be blessed with a distinctively sunnier disposition compared to the three albums that preceded it. “When you’re in your twenties you’re still trying to work things out. When I made 1972 I guess I was starting to grow up a bit.” This is interesting because Rouse certainly seems to be the kind of guy who doesn’t take things too seriously and this evening’s show is a perfect demonstration of this attitude. We’re treated to a laid back evening full of infectious tunes and impromptu covers, all presented by this most charming of frontmen and his talented band.
Prior to Josh Rouse and co. entertaining the full house tonight, we are treated to a short set from Iowa duo Field Division. Evelyn Taylor and Nicholas Frampton live a roaming life on the road and have absorbed a range of musical influences that have been allowed to flourish in recent years under the guidance of Midlake drummer McKenzie Smith. Presented in this more tender, unplugged format, the duo initially bare a resemblance to TV’s Nashville pairing of Scarlett and Gunnar; a fragile twelve-string cadence is accompanied by equally delicate harmonies that blossom and bloom into passionate exposés of human emotion. The material is laced with the spirit of Laurel Canyon and a suitably modified version of ‘Dreams’ demonstrates where their heart lies. Before leaving the stage the duo promise that they’ll return with a band in the near future and it will be interesting to see how a fuller, darker presentation of their material effects the elegiac songs heard tonight.
Rouse is ostensibly in town to promote his new record Love in the Modern Age, but this is his twelfth record since his debut release in 1998; the Nashville resident’s back-catalogue is just too deep to focus on one record. Although initially regarded as an unpretentious proponent of the new alt-country movement, Rouse’s sound has taken several subtle turns over the years and Love in the Modern Age‘s more electronic anatomy continues that trend. Tonight though is a more stripped back, orthodox presentation of the new songs and album opener ‘Salton Sea’ opens proceedings minus the subtle vocoder that the album track contains. In this more conventional format the song bears all the quality Josh Rouse hallmarks one has come to expect. Infectious melodies? Check! Sing-a-long lyrics? Check! But as the song draws to its conclusion, Josh begins sparring with his lead guitarist in a solo that surges skilfully towards a dramatic finale, making for a thrilling opening to the evening’s entertainment. ‘Ordinary People, Ordinary Lives’ follows but the elegant sheen of the track dissipates once again as an extended conclusion provides a satisfying sense of spontaneity about its presentation.
Josh Rouse banishes the winter blues with 1972‘s ‘Come Back (Light Therapy)’ next. Blessed with James Haggerty’s funky bass rhythm to compliment the soul-inspired sunny vibes, it’s an absolute joy which is followed by the more refined, urbane ‘Love in the Modern Age’. Inspired by Leonard Cohen, the song bears the great man’s timbre along with his poised sophistication, and this is a recurring theme as Rouse sips carefully from his large gin and tonic at the song’s conclusion.
The structure of the evening has been firmly established then. Fresh new tracks are followed by classic highlights from Home, Nashville and 1972 which the enthusiastic crowd revel in singing along to. ‘Come Together’ somehow emerges from a tuning break which threatens to peter out until the whole audience start singing along vociferously and although probably planned, there is no denying the fun we all have when Rouse cajoles the rest of the band to join him in a spontaneous rendition of ‘This Charming Man’ during the encore. Even the solo ballad ‘Sad Eyes’ closes with the whole band joining Josh for the song’s rousing and impassioned conclusion. Epitomised by final song ‘Love Vibration’ (which I think scientists recently proved is actually impossible to dislike!), music should lift your spirits and Josh Rouse achieves this in a grand, sophisticated and vibrant way.
LOVE IN THE MODERN AGE IS OUT NOW.
Lead photo: Iain Fox