Sunday, October 7, 2018

Ian Fisher / Antoine Villoutreix - Live 2018.10.06 Privatclub, Berlin, Germany

Artist: Ian Fisher
Venue: Privatclub
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 6 October 2018
Opening Act: Antoine Villoutreix

01. Idle Hands
02. Tables Turn
03. Icarus
04. Road to Jordan
05. My Eyes Have Seen the Glory
06. I Could Do Wrong
07. Rotted on the Vine
08. Change of Heart
09. Why Do I Go?
10. Nero
11. All Ya Need
12. Koffer
13. Candles for Elvis
14. If I Could Buy You
15. Long Line

16. Bed Downtown
17. Tears in Dust

The show opened with singer/singwriter/guitarist Antoine Villoutreix, accompanied by Karsten Lipp on lead guitar. Antoine's songs appear deceptively simple, but his lyrics are subtle, clever, and humorous if you listen closely. To be fair, I can only speak for the parts in German and English; he also sings plenty in his native French that is opaque to me. But even when I couldn't understand the words, his gift for melody and catchy songwriting craft carried the songs just fine. Lipp's guitarwork was an excellent addition as well. He played just the right parts to underpin the songs without overwhelming them, and he filled the instrumental breaks with proficient solos.

Ian Fisher appeared with a complete band: Ryan Thomas Carpenter on keyboards, guitar, and backing vocals; Andreas Laudwein on bass and backing vocals; Ollie Samland on pedal steel; and Camillo Jenny on drums. They started out by playing several songs from the new album, Idle Hands. The title track was a strong opener. The smart lyrics were only reinforced by an extra edge in the live performance. "Tables Turn" marks a turning point in songwriting and arrangement for Ian, showcasing his ability to stretch into classic pop and simultaneously push forward. "Road to Jordan" followed suit. "Icarus" and "My Eyes Have Seen the Glory" are conspicuously slower and sparser, but show growth in being able to make the minimalism work with getting tiresome.

After playing about half the new album, everyone left except for Ian and Ryan. They played three songs from the 2013 album Ian Fisher & the Present, which also featured just the two of them. It was a delightful throwback. Ryan switched to guitar and they shared a mic. Their guitars and voices still blend just as sublimely as they did five years ago. There is still a special place in my heart for Ian's acoustic folk, even if I also enjoy his growth and development with a full band into a wider array of styles. I also liked that Ian slightly changed the arrangement of the old songs by playing a 12-string guitar.

Ollie returned to the stage for "Nero", the opening track of Ian's album of the same name from 2015. It was a slow build that demonstrated the dynamic power of Ian's voice. For "All Ya Need", Ryan stepped off but Andreas and Camillo returned. Ryan rejoined to complete the full band for a rousing take on "Koffer". The arrangement was somewhere between the tightly produced, almost electro-sounding studio recording and the original acoustic demo (both of which, incidentally, appear on Koffer from 2016). The band also gave us a strong rendition of Ian's signature song "Candles for Elvis", dedicating it in protest to Donald Trump. Again, they played a new arrangement that was slightly different than any of the three studio versions Ian has released over the years.

Ian and the band then proceeded to complete their performance of Idle Hands. "Long Line" and "Bed Downtown" were both already strong on the album, but live they had even more energy. "Bed Downtown" in particular shone, giving extra time to contemplate the moral ambiguity with a bit of a noisy jam at the end. I think it was Ollie's pedal steel that was given a chance to wield some effects and get weird. For "Tears in Dust", everyone left but Ian and Ryan, who played a synthesized string part to match the arrangement on the record. It was a beautiful way to finish.

Ian Fisher's latest step into stately, carefully crafted, Americana-inflected pop turned out quite successfully, and the transition to the stage went off without a hitch. His humor was on display as well, and the interplay with Ryan and the rest of the band was fun. The extensive use of 12-string guitar along with the other subtle changes to the old songs meant there were plenty of extra touches to keep things interesting. Ian continues to impress me no matter what direction he takes.

P.S. If you want to catch a taste of the live band (albeit without Ryan), check out their set recorded just a few days ago for Radio Zwei in Bremen.

P.P.S. Thanks to Alyssa, Laurent, and Eva!

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