Josh T. Pearson @ Barbican, London 26.11.11

“This place sucks, I'm getting tired of these dives. One shit hole after the next”. An auspicious opening from the man who last time Bearded saw perform, was sitting under a glorified gazebo in a field outside a small village in Kent. A gig that, considering the surroundings of a country fayre endorsed by locally brewed 9% cider, was arguably the loudest folk music gig Bearded had ever been to, where Josh T. Pearson screamed down the mic and had his amp cranked completely to the top. It's true to say that expectation was fairly high for something big from tonight's performance, although after recently performing on the Jools Holland show, it was safe to assume the night would prove to be a more tranquil affair then the last time.

Nov 26th, 2011 at Barbican, London / By James Ingham
Josh T. Pearson @ Barbican, London 26.11.11 As the lights went down the sheer magnitude of the occasion really shone through, here we were in Barbican Hall, a gigantic space, and on the stage laid out was nothing but a mic, 2 monitors and a beautiful looking guitar. On walked Josh himself, dressed all in black and staggeringly tall with a true country beard, beyond a comical stereotype. He cut a distinguished pose in the centre of the stage and before he even played a note had the whole room raptured.

Opening with ‘Sweetheart, I Ain't Your Christ’ from his debut album Last of the Country Gentlemen the whole room was instantly drawn into the bitter sweet tone of his voice with genuine Texan honesty and grit, supported by his unique approach to country guitar playing. The soulful nature instantly reminiscing of country man, Mississippi John Hart and undeniably although a more obvious contemporary comparison, legend Nick Cave. As the set went on and developed, JTP demonstrated his remarkable ability to reinvent the 'one-man-and-his-guitar' performance, a genre that in many ways it is thought could go no further and as a generation, many are openly bored of hearing. However, through the complexity of the songs, the length (average songs running at 12 minutes long – don't be put off, it wasn't Prog) and the lyrical themes of heartache and strife, there was no cliché or predictability to be seen. Each song was a journey that told a story in such an inclusive way, you could close your eyes and feel exactly what you felt you should. Whether you were feeling the same as JTP, perhaps not, as there was a sense of obscurity at all times within his songs, as to if he was suffering from melancholy reflectiveness or experiencing an uplifting relief for getting these songs off his back. The clash of his dry sense of humour with his social commentaries of personal experiences kept the audience hanging on every word, every strum and every picked note.

In stark comparison, his between song banter was joyous as he transformed from a country singer into a stand up comedian – this is no exaggeration. “I'm really funny.............funny to look at!” JTP commented before unleashing a back catalogue of punch line ready jokes, jokes tried and tested on an audience that had obviously seen him play (and tell these jokes) before as there were cat calls of demands for specific Willie Nelson and Duck themed jokes – remarkably instead of requests for more songs. However, although this may sound off-putting to some, it worked so well, and reinforced the personable nature of the gig and of Josh himself. One moment he was pouring his heart out, battling with spirituality and broken love, and then sheepishly giggling over jokes he was yet to tell. Surreal, perhaps - engaging, very.

After his fourth and final song he thanked the crowd to a thunder of well deserved applause and left the stage only to return to perform ‘Thou Art Loosed’, the opener from his latest record. A shorter song in comparison to the rest that builds and builds until a climax of emotion is hit with the sign off line, “Cause I'm off to save the world, at least I can hope”. The whole performance had been rounded off perfectly as a tremendous folk music experience.

It's a dangerous path using terms like country and folk music at the moment. In a time where ear friendly introduce-to-your-mother folk bands have found commercial success it'd be a mini disaster to see artists of a calibre such as Josh T. Pearson get lumped into the same category. JTP may have his roots in country and folk of the American midwest, but his narrative approach to structure, his avoidance of the obvious hook and sing-along trite we hear all too often, make him stand out as an example of how being an acoustic singer songwriter does not mean ripping off a Dylan tune and beatboxing over the top with a loop pedal. It's not often one goes to a gig and comes away not having anything negative to say, however, this really was a stunning performance, a faultless show, received by a crowd who loved it.