Graham Coxon, Barbican, London
Wednesday 02 December 2009
The communal wonder of Blur's Glastonbury comeback and the desperate alcoholic rage of guitarist Graham Coxon, which first caused their split, are polar opposite extremes from tonight's lovely show. Coxon has spent the day at a memorial for the great British folk guitarist Davy Graham, and is here to play his most relaxed and rounded solo album, The Spinning Top. The grandly named, 13-piece Graham Coxon Power Acoustic Ensemble gathered to do so include another folk legend, Martin Carthy, and Anglo-psychedelic master Robyn Hitchcock. Coxon is the only one sitting, as if Method-acting himself into stool-bound folk mode. He is still a bashful, unlikely frontman. But he is a fine, happy band-leader.
Coxon's voice aims at notes he can't hit, only nailing the high ones. Three songs in, he admits to nerves at starting "In the Morning", eight-minutes long, even on record. But this is where the band take off. Woozy, science-fictional sawing on strings, including the Indian dilruba meets celestially soaring backing vocals. Glamorous third backing vocalist Natasha Marsh is the sort early 1970s English rock stars employed for soul, her huge, ecstatic cries evoking Merry Clayton on the Stones' "Gimme Shelter". She is wheeled on and off like the heavy artillery, and after her climax here, cymbals shadow picked acoustic guitars into a soft landing.
The tight pop structure to this epic's intricate flow shows Coxon's talents in balance. The Spinning Top's songs suggest as much, as this ultimate adopted citizen of Camden Town loses himself in elemental, English rustic reveries. "Home", and the Sunday morning comedown of "Feel Alright", in which he sings "by myself... I know I'll be alright" meanwhile admit a solitary nature. "Tripping Over" (not out) is typically self-deprecating, but also makes Coxon grin, lost in the pleasure of its lone indulgence of massed, grandstanding electric guitars. "If You Want Me" already saw him kicking his legendary effects pedals into a buzzing storm, while "Dead Bees" was a phased psychedelic clatter, sputtering to a stop absently. "Caspian Sea" could be a single by Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, then "Humble Man" could be of course that band's greatest students, Blur. Coxon finishes, though, strumming alone. "Baby You're Out of Your Mind" is a warning of alcoholic destruction, pointing outwards but taken in by a man who, in this company at least, seems blessedly happy and healed.
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