Cowley Road, Oxford
Friday 20th January 2017 19.30
Margo Price – lead vocal, guitar, tambourine
Jamie Davis – electric guitar
Luke Schneider – pedal steel, resonator guitar
Dillon Napier – drums
Kevin Black – bass guitar, vocals
Jeremy Ivey- acoustic guitar, harmonica, vocals
SUPPORT: Jerry Ivey, guitar, vocal, harmonica
1 (title ?)
2 (Coke scoring song)
3 Stare At The Wall
4 Red Is The Color of Love
6 Money Ain’t No Good
+ with Margo Price
I’m Gonna Miss Me
About To Find Out
Told Me Why With Your Eyes
Desperate & Depressed
Nashville Skyline Rag
Hands of Time
This Town Gets Around
Hurtin’ (On The Bottle)
Me & Bobby McGee
Four Years of Chances
I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This
Midwest Farmer’s Daughter was my choice as “Best album of 2016.” My most played track of 2016 according to iTunes was Hands of Time. Both Four Years of Chances and How The Mighty Have Fallen were in the ten most played.
MidWest Farmer’s Daughter: my best album of 2016
There’s a venue issue in Oxford (see SOUND below). The Bullingdon is flat floor, rectangular, standing only. My wife, at 5 foot, calls it an armpit venue, because when crowded, that’s her level and what she sees and smells. The argument is that standing is more exciting, but when packed this tight, there’s barely jigging on the spot space, let alone dancing space. With a hundred fewer people in there, as it will be for most gigs, a “thinner” standing area results and you can move and see between people. Not here. Too crowded. Margo Price is a dynamic performer, getting down and joining the audience in one song, a true rock ‘n’ roller. On the other hand, our age range was that of at least half the audience, as it will be for Americana artists … many of us came into it back with The Band and The Byrds. Our age range buys CDs too, rather than using streaming, so has some value. We don’t like standing for two and a half hours. A lot of venues realize this and have both worlds … Southampton O2 and Salisbury City Hall can set up with standing in front of the stage, to give the performer that feel of excitement, but raked seating further back for the older, and let’s face it, for the vertically-challenged. So for us, it is an awful venue. The pits! Or the armpits.
Her husband, Jerry Ivey opened. It was very low key. We thought he was a roadie adjusting stuff until he started, with no announcement at all. He’s a singer-songwriter. I had no idea of the title of the Dylanesque opener, but the lyrics were excellent. He announced himself as just “Jerry”. Later he explained that he was her partner. Margo Price joined him for two numbers. The first was an intricate instrumental duet for two guitars, San Marco. She said it was completely new, second time they’d played it. Then she moved to the second mic, and we got another new song I’m Gonna Miss Me … its second performance, she said. She sounded superb … the mic level lower, clearer and better than the main set in fact. Then it was odd, because we applauded, she went off, and we assumed Jerry would do another one, but he just wandered off. We felt we had no opportunity to give him the applause he so well deserved. I have a few stagecraft rules for support acts. Say your name loudly and clearly at least twice, preferably three times. Announce the titles of every song (he did after the first two). Play one cover, because necessarily everything else will be unfamiliar to the audience. Have a CD on sale. Announce it loudly and clearly at the end, and most important say “Thank you, goodbye” so people know you’ve finished.
You might be impressed by my instant recognition of Jerry Reed’s instrumental, Swarmin’ but I admit, I was standing right at the front and could read the pedal steel player’s setlist easily, meaning I had it all noted before the start and could relax and enjoy without scribbling in the dark, as I so often do … my other ploy is to look up recent set lists beforehand, so I can simply write the number next to the song.
Swarmin’ was just the band, and Margo Price came on at the end to launch into About To Find Out. She looks fabulous: tight black trousers, lacy top, great hair.
Next up was Tennessee Song and I lost attention slightly as my companion decided to move back … right by the PA speaker at the front, the drums were way, way too overwhelming in the mix.
Told Me Why With Your Eyes was a new country song, hopefully from the next album.
Desperate and Depressed is on my iTunes playlist, from an MP3, but is not on MidWest Farmer’s Daughter. Lovely song, with her usual sense of bittersweet humour. And downloadable.
Paper Cowboy is a further new one. I checked previous setlists and she’s been doing it for a while. I assume it is another original destined for the next album. On which check out her superb other new one, ‘All American Made’ on YouTube. I was hoping for it tonight, but it was not featured.
Nashville Skyline Rag (Bob Dylan) was instantly familiar, but I admit I only knew the title because I could see the pedal steel player’s setlist. It was a rest spot for the singer.
The next thing on the set list was “Acoustic” which just meant the band could go off. Margo came back on with Jerry Ivey on acoustic guitar, and did a stunning rendition of Dolly Parton’s Jolene. Just her voice, his guitar.
Then Jerry went off … he joined the band for some numbers throughout on acoustic guitar or harmonica, but was not on most songs, Margo picked up a tambourine and did an unaccompanied full power version of Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz. Fantastic stuff. A mini tribute to two of the (apart from her) greatest female vocalists. She is up there at that level too.
Jerry Ivey and Margo Price (standing)
The band were back on for everyone’s favourite, the album opener, my most-played song of last year Hands of Time.
She told the story of incarceration for Weekender,
We got two covers … First up was Merle Haggard’s Red Bandana (the bass player had a Merle Haggard cap on … and The Cactus Blossoms played in front of a Merle Haggard picture on Tuesday!). Then Johnny Cash’s Big River.You’re reminded (as with The Cactus Blossoms) that success is recent, so the bar days of playing country covers as crowd pleasers persists. By the time she has three albums out, it’ll mean cutting too many of her own songs, or doing Springsteen-length shows.
By now Margo was really rocking. She turned her back for a while and shook her ass, something that must have gone down well in bars, to say the least. Terrific performance, leaning down to the front row, going out into the audience for This Town Gets Around and an equally rocking Hurtin’ (On The Bottle).
There was no fake going off and being allegedly surprised and gratified to be forced back on for the encores for a change. I liked that. They knew. We knew. I chose that moment to go to the back, because my opinion of sound near the PA was negative, and I wanted to feel it elsewhere in the hall. It was really hard to get through the crowd, too. The first was Kris Kristofferson’s Me & Bobby McGee … though as her acoustic section featured the singers who did the best versions of it, Janis Joplin and Dolly Parton (in a duet with Kris Kristofferson), I wonder who inspired it. I reckon Janis.
Four Years of Chances is her other big one. Such a terrific song. As well as her ability to rock out, Margo Price is an outstanding lyric writer, and sometimes it would have been good to focus on that. I love this song.
Rodney Crowell’s I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This ended on a rocking note.
My “What no …?” numbers were All-American Made and How The Mighty Have Fallen. Still, maybe next time.
I came back, went online and joined Third Man records Platinum Vault club to get her live vinyl album, live DVD and single. I’m currently working out how to get a Buffalo Clover CD … it was her band with Jerry Ivey before Third Man Records launched her to the world. I hate downloading.
My position, right at the front
Sound was a major issue. The Bullingdon was not a venue I’d visit again, though the staff were welcoming and pleasant. All standing, very crowded indeed. It’s the size of a church hall, but packed solid in a sell-out show. Usually there’s space at the back, but here it was solid all the way to the back wall … I know because I wanted to experience the sound mix elsewhere.
We had managed to get right to the front on the rail. In Jerry Ivey’s opening set, the guitar was crystal clear, but from our position by the stage left PA speakers, the vocal mic was on the edge of distort and that was with just a solo singer. Or perhaps it was just too loud by the speaker so our ears were reacting. When Margo Price joined him for two numbers, and avoided the black centre mic and went to the silver mic next to it, her voice was crystal clear on I’m Gonna Miss Me. Once the main set started, and she was on the same black lead vocal mic, and they had the same problem. At the front the main vocal mic stayed on the edge of distortion for me, but the drums had at least four mics on them and a very loud player indeed, with Margo’s open lead mic right in front of him. At the front where I was, drums were way, way too loud in the mix and out of balance … bass guitar, lead guitar and pedal steel were all fine though (because they weren’t going through the PA). In a church hall size rectangle, you really don’t need to amplify the drums like this. Van Morrison has used un-mic’d drums in halls three times this size. It’s simple. If you mic up the drums, everyone else turns up. Van has the issue sussed. Interestingly, when she leapt into the audience with her mic, the drum balance improved. Further away. No bleed. The voice sounded better.
My five foot tall companion had to make her choice between distorted sound and a great view, or move back on the flat floor, see absolutely nothing at all, but be able to distinguish the vocal. She chose the latter. Later, I moved to the back for the encores. There must be a sweet spot SOMEWHERE in this room,. probably right in the middle … but the front was way, way too loud, but the back of the hall was not at all, and was in balance, drums absorbed by all those packed bodies, though overall slightly muffled. It’s just a really bad hall for sound, I think. Breeze block walls with nothing but black paint. The ceiling at the back is very low, much lower than at the front. The mixing desk is right at one side, just before the ceiling goes lower. It probably defies a decent sound mix. We compared The Cactus Blossoms in Poole three days earlier (in a school canteen) … pristine sound, great powerful drums and bass, but at around 30% of Margo Price’s volume. One small Fender amp. I noticed that the Cactus Blossom’s sound guy was walking right round the room with an iPad. You could see the levels for each channel (he stood next to me), and he checked from every angle, sides, front, back, middle, during the first two songs, and seemed to be adjusting levels. Margo Price’s sound guy would not have been able to do that, even if he’d wanted to, because you couldn’t move.
For me, a poor sound mix in the venue, flat floor, all standing, much too crowded, unfortunately marred a wonderful high energy show. She has the amps for a far bigger venue, and she should be playing far bigger venues. She clearly gets feedback from the crowd energy, but when you get bigger (as she rapidly is) you have to content yourself for the last number (get up and dance / come to the front) and encores.
One compensating joy of The Bullingdon, with a 100 mile drive home afterwards, was excellent time keeping, no hanging about at all, so a 21.30 finish, meaning home by 11.30. I’d been expecting to stand around for an hour, with a 30 minute interval, and leave near eleven, home at 1 am. At -3°C it hadn’t been a pleasant prospect.