Exuberant Doug Walker charms Leeds crowd

Former Bob Dylan opener Sarabeth Tucek lives up to hype

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Sarabeth Tucek

Anna Hmjak

Letters from Leeds is a feature by Gazette staff writer Gennelle Smith, who is currently on exchange in England and will be dispatching articles about the local music scene to Canada.

Doug Walker & Sarabeth Tucek w/ the French Defence
Feb. 29 @ Brudenell Social Club

LEEDS, UK " Amid cabaret-style tables, dim candles and the fatigue of a long workweek, the crowd at the venerable Brudenell Social Club patiently awaited the first act of what promised to be a laid back, intimate show.

They weren’t disappointed. The first band " fresh-faced act the French Defence " began with an acoustic set full of quiet heartbreak. Sole band member Owen, currently the only one “defending the French on a full-time basis,” as he puts it, did his best Damien Rice impersonation and came up a bit short.

His storytelling rather than his voice is his strength; a series of thoughtful songs culminated with the darkly funny “Purity Test,” which had the audience chuckling and concerned at the same time. Owen’s chatty commentary on the concept for the band’s 2007 EP contrasted his melancholy tunes, but he endeared himself to the audience.

The first headliner of the night, New Yorker Sarabeth Tucek, proved her hype in the UK is deserved. Tucek has supported none other than Bob Dylan in the past as well as Ray Lamontage and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

Her striking voice " a sweet, haunting instrument that combines Nico and Neil Young " along with her great backing band, skillfully threaded her set list together.

Her debut track “Something For You” is brilliant. Subtle, simple and powerful, it knocks the breath out of you; it’s the song that convinced Dylan to invite her to open for him and it’s a song that is difficult to forget once heard. The Neil Young-esque “Hot Tears” and more upbeat “Blowing You Kisses” are similarly gorgeous songs.

The great songwriting and interesting backstories continued with the night’s second headliner, Manchester native Doug Walker.

Walker has become famous for his unorthodox rise to fame. After years of failing to get a record deal, in August 2007 Walker stood outside the BBC Radio One building at 5 a.m. to personally hand a demo to legendary DJ Chris Moyles. To Walker’s (and everyone’s) surprise, Moyles played the song that morning and, after being flooded with calls, played it twice more that day and eight times that week.

Within days Walker was being courted with record deals and signed with Warner Bros. in October. He’s currently touring and promoting his first single “The Mystery” " the song that launched his career.

Once he sat down at his piano and opened his mouth, Walker proved himself worthy of the attention. His ‘aw, shucks’ attitude, earnest self-promotion and genuinely funny banter showed off his gift for showmanship. His obvious musical talent, meanwhile, brought his otherwise-normal songs to life.

From the clap-along chorus of “The Mystery” to the more low-key “Since You’ve Been Down” and “You Are All I Need,” Walker charmed the entire audience with his great voice and exuberant playing, even impressing those who had come to see Tucek and stayed out of curiosity.

It remains to be seen if Walker can follow up the first single with a successful album, but if the enthusiasm currently surrounding all new music in the UK is any indication, he and Tucek will easily stand head and shoulders above the crowd.

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