Concert Reviews
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Live Review: Mad Dog Mcrea and Cosmo Jarvis at London’s Jazz Cafe (11/22)

on November 24, 2012, 6:39pm

The Jazz Cafe is a curious venue on the gentrified southern edge of Camden Town, North London. The venue was originally a bank — which may explain the bar prices. When it became a live jazz venue, it was modeled on the West End’s famous Ronnie Scott’s and has grown into a place where there is much more than jazz, allowing for the ecleticism of acts like Mad Dog Mcrea and Cosmo Jarvis. The venue is fairly small, holds 350 people and is arranged on two floors — you’re never far from the stage and mezzanine viewing area upstairs, which also doubles as a restaurant.

The curiosity factor stems from the cafe’s blocky, functional architecture and its unusually spotless floor, for a music venue. You can also pick up free deodorant, lollipops, and chewing gum in the toilets. So a fitting setting then for tonight’s maverick lineup of the gifted individualist, Cosmo Jarvis, and West Country folk-rocksters, Mad Dog Mcrea. Approaching the end of an intensive month-long UK tour together, both acts seemed fully honed and were greeted by enthusiastic camp followers, most of whom appeared to have equal time for both bands.

Cosmo Jarvis kicked off proceedings with an hour-long set, aided by a second guitarist, bassist and drummer. Any notions of a semi-acoustic Jarvis were quickly dispelled by the full-on electric sound. Despite an excessively booming bass, Jarvis’ powerfully guttural vocal held sway throughout the opening numbers and you were still able to catch his inimitable lyrics, like on “She Doesn’t Mind”:  “Mum and Dad I’ve met a girl/She’s got great teeth, and she’s marrying me” and “She’s from an educated home/And she plays the trombone”.  The subtleties of Jarvis’ music though were lost in the mix, so that the gentle meandering of “Love This” on record became a fast-flowing torrent.

Midway through the set, the intense band sound began to find a better balance and peaked on songs like the raucous “Good Citizen” with its echoes of the “My Generation”-era The Who and the pure pop of “Tell Me Who To Be”. Or, maybe everything just got louder. Jarvis’ voice commanded all through the set and his lead guitar work was equally impressive, particularly his blistering arpeggios at the end of “My Day” and the Wings homage on “Train Downtown”. Jarvis’ best-known song, “Gay Pirates”, was the inevitable closer. With Jarvis squatting, mandolin in hand, while members of Mad Dog Mcrea joined in, the song’s choruses were sung with lusty vigor by the crowd. It’s a song that Jarvis seems fated to play forever but he had the last, uncompromising word by opting for a weird mandolin and drum breakdown ending rather than going out more obviously on the last chorus.

“Gay Pirates” put the crowd in dance mode and as soon as six-piece, Mad Dog Mcrea, took the stage the mixed-age audience took its cue. The bitter-sweet sentiments of opener, “Am I Drinking Enough” scarcely stood in the way of a good time. Mixing self-penned work with traditional tunes and the odd cover, the band ripped through a repertoire that everyone seemed to know and love.  Two young Irish-dancing girls were introduced at the start of the Border ballad, “Raggle Taggle Gypsy”, and at intervals thereafter, evoking the spirit of Michael Flatley of River Dance fame. Vocal songs were interspersed with jigs and reels to give a predominantly Irish feel to the music with front man, singer-guitarist Michael Mathieson, a genial and engaging host. The crowd’s reaction and dance intensity grew as the evening progressed.

The set might have been a little too formulaic but it was hard to counter the crowd’s enthusiasm or knock the musicianship on display, not least Nicky Powell’s dexterous fiddle playing. Equally, there were several high spots: whistle and flute player, Dan Crimp, echoed Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson during “Johnny No Legs” (yes, a tale of legless pirates) while the klezmer rhythms of “Stupid Things” were infectious. You could even hear the riff from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” creep into the routine standard, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”.

The Richard Thompson cover, “Bee’s Wing” provided a welcome change of tempo while the Luka Bloom penned “Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time” similarly cut through as a sensitive song lovingly performed and nicely segued with a closing jig. The evening finished with a Mad Dog Mcrea set-piece, “Curly Wurley Jig”, which had just about everything you could throw into the mix from band member solos to vamping rhythm guitar from a kneeling Cosmo Jarvis who had joined his tour mates. The frantically hot crowd exited en masse for cold showers, or settled for a London November rain.

Setlist: Cosmo Jarvis
Sure As Hell Not Jesus
Love This
She Doesn’t Mind
Thinking Of The Wrong Things
Good Citizen
Tell Me Who To Be
My Day
Why Can’t I Leave You Behind
Train Downtown
Look At The Sky
Gay Pirates

Setlist: Mad Dog Mcrea
Am I Drinking Enough
Climb A Hill
Raggle Taggle Gypsy
Black Fly
Music For A Found Harmonium
The Butterfly
Johnny No Legs
The Which
Stupid Things
Rose & Heather
Whiskey Moon
The Devil Went Down To Georgia
Devil’s Cauldron
Bees Wing
Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time
The Happy Bus
Your Pretty Smile
Curly Wurley Jig