As the posters that adorn the walls attest, The Louisiana is the kind of venue an act plays at the lower ebbs of their career, whether it be on their sweeping arc to fame, or the slide back down into obscurity. But where does tonight’s act sit on this path? As always with Kevine Devine, it’s rather hard to say.
Before we get to the headline slot we have ‘local support’ from Owen Chambers, aka Tremolo Ghosts (***). Tonight is Owen‘s lucky night; the awkward stage banter lands just on the right side of charming and his simple songs of grim Welsh valleys and odes to local hotspots have enough warmth to be endearing. Aided by the intimate atmosphere of The Louisiana and the shortness of his set, it’s easy to forgive him for his nervousness.
A tiny attic room above a pub is not a venue you should find Kevin Devine (****) inhabiting. The size of his voice and emotionally-fraught delivery strains at the walls and low ceiling, calling for more ears to listen and more voices to sing along. Despite clearly evident talent, Devine has never quite ascended to the heights that his past tour comrades Brand New and Manchester Orchestra have managed to achieve. So, watching him in this environment already lends the evening something intangibly tragic.
Tonight, Devine is the underdog, and he plays the role to brilliant effect. His songs, so often about being burned by love or life, take on a gut-wrenching poignancy live that is lacking on record. Material from his latest releases, ‘Bubblegum’ and ‘Bulldozer’, are favoured over earlier albums, but there are welcome visits to classics from ‘Brother’s Blood’ and other more obscure offerings.
There are points tonight where Devine truly steps up into spine-tingling territory. ‘Carnival’ sees neck tendons straining as he sings from the back of the stage, ratcheting up the emotional intensity. ‘Couldn’t Be Happier’ occupies the same spectrum but for the opposite reason. Dialled back and soft, it feels deeply personal, and it’s hard not to get swept up in his confessional style.
In 75 minutes there is anger, there is sadness and there is hope, each bottled into simple 3-minute songs delivered with the kind of frankness and lyrical clarity that makes the head spin. It’s a simple formula, but Devine has honed his delivery to a white hot point that makes him a presence impossible to ignore.
Written by Grant Bailey