Hugh Laurie @ Union Chapel, London Review
Location: Union Chapel, Islington Our Rating:
It is fashionable to be dismissive of actors who make forays into music – it’s taken either as an indicator that their acting career is drying up (Steven Seagal) or as the hobbyistic whim of a celebrity who would never have landed a recording contract if they weren’t already a household name (Russell Crowe). Hugh Laurie clearly doesn’t fall into the former camp; he has been so successful in his eponymous role in House that he is now that highest paid actor in American TV drama. so the question raised by the announcement that we was to release an album was whether he would fall into the latter.
He certainly has more credibility as a musician than many other actors. We’ve seen him playing the piano in Fry and Laurie sketches and, more recently, he’s portrayed Dr. House messing around with a guitar from time to time. As a result, we know he can play. But in his album let them Talk, Laurie shares his real musical passion – new Orleans blues – and his challenge at this show at the Union Chapel, his first London gig, is to prove himself as a serious musician.
I say serious, but Hugh Laurie was never going to give an earnest performance. the show began light-heartedly, with his backing group, the Copper bottom Band, warming up with a Thelonious Monk number. Laurie, it turned out, was sitting inconspicuously in the stalls and made his way to the piano to begin with some Louis Armstrong, which segued into his album opener ‘St James Infirmary’.
Each song was preceded by some introductory banter, which ultimately became self-referential as Laurie mused on the best way to introduce the songs without overusing the word ‘song’. This sort of chatter undoubtedly helped to win over the audience, but more revealing were the nuggets of contextual information that he dropped in about some of the songs. ‘St James Infirmary’, for example, is apparently based on an English folk-song and may refer to a leper hospital that stood on the site of St James’s Palace. Laurie pointed out that this was perhaps useless information, but his slightly nerdish attitude towards the songs he played shows his genuine enthusiasm for the music.
Although he remained seated at the piano for most of the show, he picked up a guitar for a thumping rendition of Lead Belly’s ‘You Don’t know My Mind’. This was followed by a version of ‘Joshua Fought the Battle Of Jericho’ in which Laurie contributed only vocals; initially he looked a little awkward without an instrument but became more relaxed as the song moved towards its climax.
The backing band he has assembled are excellent. Guitarist Kevin Breit stole the show at times with his extraordinary versatility. For most of the gig he had two instruments strapped to him, and deftly switched between them. meanwhile saxophonist Vincent Henry showed off his talents in a duet with Laurie on piano, and displayed his ability to play two saxophones at once.
As for Laurie’s own skills as a musician, on the evidence of this gig, they can’t be denied. While he can hold a tune, his singing is not exceptional, though he has a talent for varying his vocal style to suit each song: on ‘Six cold Feet In the Ground’ and ‘Whinin’ Boy’ he is soulful and plaintive, while he shows a fuller-lunged side during ‘Hallelujah I love Her So’. This variation serves as a reminder of his day job – he has an actor’s ability to take on many different roles.
And so we come back to the question of whether Hugh Laurie would be playing the blues in the Union Chapel if he was not an established name. There is something a little self-indulgent about his musical venture and it is highly unlikely that other middle-aged men of equal talent would be able to land such a gig. at one point a round of whiskies is brought out for Laurie and his band, and he explains that they have developed a habit of drinking single malts when they play. This ritual gets a round of applause, even though it seems exactly the sort of thing that a middle-class blues fan might do in an attempt to channel the spirit of the Mississippi.
But Laurie pulls it off precisely because he doesn’t hide the fact that he is a middle-class blues fan. It doesn’t matter that this is not an authentic blues performance – how can any contemporary blues show be authentic anyway? Laurie shows that he has not only the necessary skills as a musician and a performer, but also a real passion for the music he’s playing.VN:F [1.9.8_1114]Hugh Laurie @ Union Chapel, London, 9.3 out of 10 based on 21 ratings
<a href="http://www.shout4music.com/?p=14233tag:news.google.com,2005:cluster=http://www.shout4music.com/?p=14233Tue, 10 May 2011 14:44:26 GMT 00:00">Hugh Laurie @ Union Chapel, London Review