The last time we saw JR Green, they were headlining King Tut’s as part of the Summer Nights festival that was running in the venue throughout the month of July. It was an assured performance from the duo that indicated a lot of promise and an undeniable musical chemistry; albeit in front of a dwindling crowd mainly due to their late time slot.
This time however, they return to Glasgow for their very own headline show to close a UK tour which has taken them to venues around Manchester, London, Leeds, Dundee, Edinburgh and more; spreading their appeal far beyond the reaches of their rural hometown in the northwest highlands. It follows the release of their brand new single ‘First Blood’ earlier this month, a song which conveys the sounds of a band who are becoming increasingly accomplished in their musicianship while continuing to nurture their traditional folk influences in encouraging and innovative ways. Such has been the reaction to this drop of new material that they have attracted a stronger crowd to the venue who are most definitely only here to see the headline act this time around.
The warm sounds of the accordion kick things off with ‘Do the Katie Step’, a perfect introduction to the gig with its combination of beguiling lyricism and upbeat melody leading to the anthemic refrain: “My youth is on fire!” It is precisely this aspect of their music that has made them such an exciting prospect; the ability to bring a quirky, modern edge to an otherwise traditional Scottish sound. Their guitar and accordion set-up appears so simple yet sparks innovation when paired with their indie rock influences and contemporary perspective; their lyrical observations laced with youthful angst and the kind of poetic stylings that Pete Doherty would be proud of.
As evidenced so far on their ‘Bring Back The Witch Doctor’ EP and the new single, this equates to a very authentic and welcoming sound when put down on record. the tracks wrap themselves around you in a warm embrace and grab you by the heart. This feeling is magnified when you see them performed live; the upbeat anthems such as ‘Nigerian Princess’ soar in a room full of people while the quieter moments of reflection maintain their tender intimacy without any distractions.
The setlist showcases all of their released material along with some that is more unknown, moving seamlessly between songs without the need for chatter in-between. The recent addition of a drummer and bass player has allowed them to beef up their acoustic sound and experiment more rhythmically, particularly on the more upbeat songs such as ‘The Hunger’ and ‘First Blood’ which benefit from thumping percussion. The latter, their most recent single, is suitably met with a rousing reaction; beginning in understated fashion with a muted guitar line before developing into a whirl of lively instrumentation and a soaring chorus.
Whether he’s howling over the swelling sounds of Jacob’s accordion or singing in a more considered way during the intimate ballads, lead vocalist Rory is captivating in his heart-on-sleeve delivery. His gravelly vocals lend a gritty substance to his lyrics as he manages to exude a brutal honesty while maintaining an elusive coolness that is hard to pinpoint. On ‘The Gentleman’s Apocalypse’ it is impossible to take your eyes from him as he sings of “strange ideas of love” over an intricate and tentative guitar-picked melody; Jacob coming in with shadowed harmonies to provide emotional nuance. Hanging onto every detailed lyric of heartbreak, it is a moment that displays their musical chemistry while hushing the room with emotional vulnerability.
Ending the set with a high-energy foot-stomper, a small ceilidh dance breaks out at the front of stage before a rapturous applause. With a growing response to each song as the set progresses, it’s a sign that this band are onto something special.