King Tut’s, 09/10/11
“This will be a gig I’ll remember,” Dan Owen remarks as he looks out at the audience in the small venue. And, with this being my first visit to King Tut’s, I am inclined to feel the same. Walking up the famous stairs documenting the musicians who have performed here over the years, I am overcome with the sense of the importance of this tiny venue.
Owen opens with ‘Little Red Rooster’, performing with a guitar and a harmonica. Whilst beginning with a well-known and well-covered blues song may seem unusual, Owen manages, like many artists before him, to make the song his own. The audience stamp their feet in time and enjoyment, and it is a strong start to the night..
After ‘Little Red Rooster’, he is joined on stage by a keyboardist, and songs such as ‘Icarus’ and ‘Parachute’ create a more mellow atmosphere; this culminates with the piano-heavy ‘Hand That You Hold’ which he dedicates to any couples in the audience. The tenderness of this song is juxtaposed with the following more upbeat ‘What is a Man’ which gets the crowd stamping once more.
Owen performs best when it’s just him and his guitar, a set up reminiscent of the times he performed in pubs across Shrewsbury when he was just starting out. He jokes that he plays tracks like ‘Hideaway’ and ‘Fall Like a Feather’ acoustically because he can’t afford a full band, but these acoustic renditions allow for a very tender and intimate performance which suits the small venue. The audience sways along to ‘Fall Like a Feather’ and the pain in this song is keenly felt in the performance. There is also something quite emotional about the crowd singing along with Owen when he questions ‘When something happens fast / Is it destined not to last?’.
His stage persona shines through with the anecdotes he peppers throughout his set, such as how ‘Fall Like a Feather’ was written using a harmonica from a Christmas cracker and a keyboard bought for 50p at a car boot sale. At another point in the night, he gets the crowd to join in singing happy birthday for an audience member’s birthday; as the night goes on you feel more and more like you’re friends with him, a feeling heightened by the small nature of the venue. He shares intimate pieces about his life, such as how one of his best friends was domestically abused by his partner (‘Made to Love You’) and how he wrote ‘Stay Awake With Me’ as a way to grieve after the death of his grandfather. These stories add another layer to already beautiful songs, and they become extremely tender and poignant.
The highlight of the night comes from his performance of ‘When I Die’, a song which he insists is a happy song despite its title. The crowd starts to clap and stamp their feet even before he’s begun singing and, true to his word, it turns out to be a very happy song. The crowd sings along loudly, cheering and screaming that ‘maybe we should party just in case’; it is in this moment that you can understand why he tells the crowd that this is one of his favourite gigs on the tour.
The set ends in the same way it started with a cover of a blues song, but this time it is Bob Dylan’s ‘Ballad of Hollis Brown’. This is Owen’s last hurrah, and he certainly gives it his all; it’s an energy-filled finale, one which both he and the crowd have the time of their lives in.
[Eleanor Fletcher – @eleanorlf_]
[Image credit: Miguel de Melo]