Chris Smither played the Black Box in Belfast as part of his UK and Ireland tour. The venue was packed with appreciative fans who hadn’t seen Chris play there for some years, although he has been a frequent visitor to Belfast over a long period. The veteran bluesman was in terrific form, playing a combination of oldies and songs from his new album, Call Me Lucky, in his own, inimitable style.
He was supported by the one-man band Matt Lorenz, who unpacked his percussion kit from an old suitcase, which then became his bass drum. The gerry-rigged pots and pans accompanied his overdriven cheap acoustic guitar to great effect in a set that was as surprising as it was immensely enjoyable.
1. Chris Smither has a unique guitar playing style. Make no mistake about it, he’s a terrific guitarist, with that rock steady, alternating thumb thing he has going and his clever licks on the top strings, but, like all great guitarists, he has an unmistakable style. You hear a few bars and you know you’re hearing a Chris Smither number. He even made his cover of Chuck Berry’s Maybelline sound like a Chris Smither song.
2. Then there’s that characteristic, miked up rhythmic foot tapping thing he does, beating like a metronome, both percussive and accentuating the throbbing bass of the guitar. You’d wonder if it would work right throughout his set, but, yes, it does, putting both Chris and the audience into a kind of trance as each song progresses.
3. Chris Smither’s repertoire extends far beyond the blues, but boy is he good at playing the blues. He told us he inhabited the music of Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Blind Willie McTell and the other country blues guys when he first started out playing – he says he wanted to be those guys. But all these years later, that solid legacy of acoustic blues guitar is what underpins his playing style. The man can play the blues – What It Might Have Been went down a storm, as did the barnstorming Statesboro Blues which rounded the evening off.
4. His new album, Call Me Lucky, is packed with songs laced with sharp lyrics and wry humour. Amongst other songs we were treated to Nobody Home, an amusing but slightly caustic look at the state of the world. The Belfast crowd loved the line about the “clown with the comb over, tweeting on his phone.”
5. He has plenty of classics and crowd favourites in his back catalogue. There were smiles on faces and people mouthing lyrics on numbers like Leave The Light On and No Love Today.
6. Song writing, apparently, does not come easily to a man who has been hailed as “one of the absolute best singer-songwriters in the world.” It is, he told us, an “illogical, incoherent process” which he can only do when the pressure of having to produce another album bears in on him. It’s the lyrics that get to him, it seems – and yet he’s produced so many gems over the years, with clever, amusing, poignant lyrics. Goes to show, if you’re gonna be good at something, it takes hard work…
7. Matt Lorenz, aka Suitcase Junket is a phenomenal talent, who blew us away with his guitar playing, home-spun percussion, brilliant songs and his jaw-dropping vocals. He’s perfected a kind of tone-shifting singing style where he can produce harmonics in a kind of extra accompaniment to his singing of the lyrics. He explained how he does it – I’m none the wiser – but it was mighty impressive. You know when you go to a gig and you kind of endure the support act, hoping he or she will finish quickly so you get to the main act? With Matt Lorenz you were hoping he’d play some more. Thankfully Mr. Smither invited him back later to accompany him with some tasteful slide guitar in a couple of songs later on. Let’s hope the young Suitcase Junket has all the success he deserves.
Catch our recent interview with Chris Smither here.