Live: Richard Youngs + Eric Chenaux @ Cafe Oto In London, 11/01/2014

Guitar soloing is so often a demonstration of virtuosity and technical confidence, but it sounds drunk and weak-limbed under Chenaux’s command; the exaggerated wah pedal movements sound like massive bubbles ready to pop, and the vibrato makes held notes shiver like a bottom lip heralding an imminent outburst of tears, adding the threat of breakdown to the usual blues resignation. Even in the company of a near-capacity Café Oto, his songs feel lonely, gushing out with a raw desperation that holds no regard for anyone listening while simultaneously bemoaning his own solitude. The chords underneath (executed using pedal FX that sustains each note without decay) are reverent and organ-like – I feel like I’m sat on an otherwise empty church pew letting the hovering note formations dance with my wandering and regretful thought, or perhaps watching the sun set on a miserable day through a jazz café window. Chenaux’s voice, meanwhile, is hushed and frail, dipping down and up with the micro-movements of dimming candlelight.

Meanwhile, Youngs seems to postpone his own mortality through obsession with tiny external details. He picks up sound objects and surveys them thoroughly – breathing them in, feeling their shape until each line and sharp point imprints upon his palms – before putting them down again, ultimately nowhere closer to understanding through his spate of compulsive hyper-analysis. In between songs he rambles: “I often wonder why I do this…I’m worried I’m falling back on stuff, like tonight I’m here playing songs…”. Everything is scrutinised, as Youngs helplessly mines for answers where there probably are none. “Spin Me Endless In The Universe” – a simple acoustic piece that pivots on the most delicate, pendulumic fretwork adjustment – tilts me left and right, and it’s as though Youngs is constantly overshooting the point of balance that lies in between the song’s two central chords; I am pulled further into every single repeat, eventually feeling as though I’m situated somewhere between fretboard and string. But it’s during the acapella portions of tonight that the beauty of his voice really comes forth; that tendency for it to swoop upward and catch itself, quivering upon a single note momentarily, earthly and uneven like a rural English hillside.

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