Live at The Garage
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If you managed to get your hands on a copy of the April issue of GT you would have seen that U.S singer songwriter Jay Brannan has a brand new album release in the form of his sophomore offering Rob Me Blind. In support of the album Jay returned to our shores this week to showcase a selection of the new songs live for the first time in the U.K and –obviously – GT was there to watch.
Making our way down to The Garage in Highbury we arrived just in time to catch the last few songs of support act Nick Howard who’s feel good uplifting folk combined with his boy band looks made him an instant hit with the crowed. Nick closed his set with the infectiously catchy Days Like These, an up-tempo almost reggae infused acoustic gem taken from his new album When The Lights Go Up. Make sure to check him out.
After a brief intermission, a wave of cheers and applause spread through the audience as Jay Brannan took to the stage. Still true to his DIY ethic and his roots as an independent artist there was no sign of a roadie or stage hand and Jay instead spent a few short moments setting up his guitar and mic himself, just the way he did when he started playing open mics back in his native New York. After saying a quick "hello" to the audience and showing off his Union Jack socks, worn specially for the occasion, Jay launched into his first song of the evening At First Sight.
One of the great things about watching Jay live is watching him interact with the audience between songs. His anecdotal stream of consciousness style story telling is charming, endearing, funny and as entertaining as the music itself.
This was Jay’s fifth visit to the UK and it’s clear that he’s an artist who loves taking in the sights of each city on tour. “I rode on the over ground for the first time today” he exclaimed, proving that Rihanna’s not the only star who likes to make use of London’s public transport. “But then I got lost”, the difference being of course that Jay probably doesn’t travel with an army of security and an entourage planning his every move.
Next on the set list was Housewife, the lead single and one of the stand out tracks from Jay’s debut album Goddamned. Upon hearing the song’s familiar guitar intro the crowed let out an emphatic applause to which Jay responds “what are you so excited about?” and is quickly met with laughter from the audience. A complete natural performer, just three songs in and he already had the entire capacity of The Garage (ourselves included) eating out of the palm of his hand.
As Jay sang "I wanna have his baby, I wanna wear his ring" the lyrics of this familiar song seemed to take on added meaning and resonated that much more deeply in the context of recent events in the fight for marriage equality. Jay remains one of the few openly out singer songwriters to write candidly about his own experiences of love and relationships without diluting the songs subject matter. The lyrics specify “his” and not the ubiquitous and more gender neutral “your” so often heard in the lyrics of other artists, even openly gay ones.
Brannan is as known for his unique covers as he is for his songwriting and tonight, especially for the UK audience and as he put it “to go with my socks” he debuted his cover of Adele’s Someone Like You displaying a power and intensity to his voice that he rarely gets to show off. Throughout the set Jay peppers his conversations with attempts at a British accent which further endear him to the audience.
Picking up the pace again was another track from the new album, The Spanglish Song. Singing the choruses in Spanish, perhaps acquired from his rigorous touring through Europe, the song is an upbeat foot tapping offering that in places is reminiscent of Soda Shop, the song that Jay performs in Shortbus, the film that kick started his career.
Listening to Jay perform his unique style of pop folk, combining musical credibility and model good looks we found ourselves wondering why he hasn’t yet become a household name and broken into the mainstream. This thought is barely seconds old before Jay is telling us about his recent invite to perform at the GENIE awards, which he explains are the Canadian version of the Oscars. Jay was invited to perform his original song My Love, My Love live during the ceremony, a song he wrote specially for the independent Canadian flick Cloudburst and subsequently scored him a nomination for Best Original Song. It seems that Jay Brannan may yet become a household name after all.
Next was a definite crowed favorite from Jay’s 2008 debut, the beautiful and emotive Can't Have It All, a song that eloquently depicts the loneliness and isolation of looking for love in a big city. Another wave of excitement is emitted from the crowd when Jay asks if we want to see his new “performance pants” that he bought the previous day in Brighton, an excitement that is only quelled when it becomes apparent there has been a trans Atlantic mistranslation and that Jay is in fact talking about his Jeans.
Putting down his guitar for the next song and opting for a castanet type percussive instrument, Jay suggestively asked the audience “can you hear my balls?” before performing an acapella version of Bob Dylan's Blowing In The Wind. The choice of cover immediately gets the crowed singing along to it’s chorus in unison.
One of the standout tracks from the new album is the title track Rob Me Blind and as Jay performs this song a hush comes over the audience. Gentle, meditative, almost trance like, this is a song that you could imagine playing as a lullaby softly singing you to sleep.
Last time we saw Jay play live he surprised the crowed with an acoustic rendition of NWA’s Straight Outta Compton mixed with TLC’s Waterfalls. This time around it was Nicki Miniaj’s Super Bass that got the Brannan treatment and was another instant hit. There’s something about a sensitive folk singer songwriting rapping the words “I am Nicki Minaj, I mack them dudes up, back coupes up, and chuck the deuce up” that really shouldn’t work, but oddly it really does.
Jay closed his set with Half-Boyfriend, one of the songs that first earned him his legion of online YouTube fans. The song perfectly showcases what Brannan’s music is all about. The soft pure tone of his voice, delicate and intricately woven melodies and lyrics that are both cutting and comical in a single instant “you’re a tease, you’re a cockblocker, you’re a loudmouth bitch, and a big talker, but that’s okay you’ll grow up someday”.
Rob Me Blind is out now on iTunes and from jaybrannan.com
Words: Chris O’Gorman