Sometimes you just know that you have witnessed something seminal. The Slaughtered Lamb pub, tucked away in the labyrinthal back streets of Central London, offered up one such occasion on a cold, dark Wednesday night, as Sydney's Steve Smyth played an exceptional show for the UK launch of his debut album, Release.
Beginning with one of the most exciting songs put out by anyone this year, Barbiturate Cowboy & His Dark Horses, Smyth (pictured, above) demonstrated his vocal range and captivating stage presence as an ethereal opening was barged aside by a lung-busting, gravel-throated Tom Waits bark. He howled, approached the mic from every angle, stomped his feet and dropped to his knees on the beer soaked carpet as droplets of sweat rained from his brow. On A Hopeless Feminist, the troubadour treated his guitar with the gentle caress of a lover while during the raw blues of No Man's Land, he bashed the living hell out of it. Counterbalancing this, he further illustrated the nuances of his vocal with a beautiful A Cappella version of Leadbelly's Sylvie.
As well as being backed by Howling Bells drummer Glenn Moule on drums for much of the set, Smyth was also joined by Moule's London-based Australian band-mate Juanita Stein (pictured, above) for the sweet and gentle duet Stay Young. The Howling Bells singer's pretty delivery floated elegantly through the silenced room and juxtaposed the show's more visceral moments. The night closed with Smyth being joined by Kitty, Daisy & Lewis (pictured, below) for a fun Howlin' Wolf-esque romp, Chocolate For Breakfast, which had been created in the London siblings' home just the day before.
Calls for an encore were reluctantly denied by Smyth. “How can you top that?” he asked of his triumphant closing jam with the North London trio. And so, with a drink in each hand and a smile the size of the Thames visible through his epic beard, he disappeared through the packed room to a multitude of back-slaps and a cacophony of cheers.
On this showing, and judging by the quality of his debut LP, the charismatic Steve Smyth has an incredibly exciting future ahead of him and this love-in between himself, his musical mates and a wooed audience is sure to be one of those occasions where those in attendance will, in the future, boast “I was there.” The singer/songwriter certainly seemed overwhelmed and humbled by the turnout and reception and, as the crowd stepped out into the freezing London streets, their breath dancing in front of their faces, they did so in the knowledge that they had witnessed something truly special.
Review and photos by Bobby Townsend.