Aaron Drain reviews King Creosote and Joshua Burnside

In a broad sense, this year’s edition of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival has really had it all and then some. Building year on year with its offering of comedy, theatre, music, and those blurred lines of performance that rest ever more comfortably on its wider artistic periphery, Belfast is rather spoiled by the CQAF.

Musically speaking, the festivities have been as reliable as ever in terms of delivering a mixed bag of sounds to revellers in a handful of familiar venues dotting the city’s ‘haven of hip’. A few legends, some lesser-knowns, and a handful of local heroes have made up the collective sound of the festival this year (well, every year, really) and it’s tonight, on the penultimate evening of festivities, that 2018’s CQAF Artist in Residence, Lisbane’s Joshua Burnside, delivers his final performance to a near sold-out Black Box.

In competition with legendary selector David Rodigan mere minutes away in the grander surrounds of Custom House Square, Burnside’s duty tonight is two-fold – cement his status as the absolute premiere choice for Artist in Residence (this is his final show of six over the course of the festival), and open for Scottish, croak-toned troubadour King Creosote. On both counts, Burnside is successful, though the latter operation is something of an unchallenging task by sheer proxy.

But back to that residence angle. Burnside’s turn tonight is momentous, considering even that such an adjective need rarely apply to a performance made up of the sum total of one man and one guitar. But here we are, listening intently, chatter to a minimum as County Down’s finest contemporary folk son weaves in and out of 60’s Americana flecked with coppery tones borne from traditional Irish folk. Or, vice versa. It’s distinctive, enthralling and clear why Burnside has been afforded this run of shows. A forthcoming EP of new material, some of which we’re treated to, will back up this sentiment soon enough.

Alas, his short but sweet performance comes to an end and gives way to some milling around and anticipation of tonight’s main act, Fife’s much lauded, critically acclaimed singer songwriter King Creosote. Instantly recognisable by his softly spoken, almost anxious vocals, Creosote is flanked by a violinist, a percussionist, and keyboardist to deliver unto us, well, a selection of, erm, softly spoken, almost anxious songs with a baggy-pop sheen. Namely, tracks like ‘You Just Want’, ‘Dial C for Cradle’, ‘Betelgeuse’, ‘Something To Believe In’, as well as ‘Third Swan’ and a jaunty concluding cover of Paul Young’s ‘Come Back and Stay’.

Creosote’s music can be truly beautiful, moving and emotive in its form and execution – all shimmering histrionics atop jangling melodies – but tonight feels like it should be more of an opportunity for raucous celebration. A series of vibrant shows, making up the wider festival, seems relegated to be near-summed up by a procession of maudlin soliloquies, stirring to begin with but quickly becoming tiresome. No doubt a singular talent, Creosote may well have worked better as a mid-festival draw, though logistically the show does provide some respite from the heavy dub permeating the air outside courtesy of Rodigan and his big bag of vinyl. Perhaps it’s a thinking-mans’s booking.

This has been a fine show in some respects; the musicians that surround Creosote are capable and energetic, and the pairing of Burnside and King Creosote is a sensible enough bill. But take away the former’s booming, political, personal, gut-wrenching ownership of the microphone, and indeed his audience, and you’re quite literally left with a man sleeping in his chair, only periodically roused by despondent clapping, before going right on back to the land of nod, all before the court of King Creosote.

That, dear readers, quite perfectly sums up tonight’s main performance. Sleepy, forgettable – thank god there’s one more day of CQAF to put things right.

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