Clare Bowen, Striking Matches, Timothy James Bowen - Royal Festival Hall
The format of tonights show was predetermined and to a degree dictated by the choice of venue.
Fellow Nashville colleague Sam Palladio has been playing support to Striking Matches around the UK during the Summer in predominantly smaller venues along with some well chosen Festival appearances ahead of his debut release later in the year, allowing him to distance himself from his Nashville character. Charles Esten when he tours next year has chosen to play a seated Shepherds Bush Empire, creating a more intimate affair, tonight Clare, with only one ( albeit very good ) album to her name had a lot of people to entertain and impress.
The evening commenced with a brief bit of nepotism, as Clare's brother Timothy James was first to appear. He proved to have a big voice that filled the room, and his songs sounded like they should be sung with a full band rather than performed solo, "Breathe Easy" the opener had the feel of a sub Coldplay tune.
The major theme running through all of his songs was love, "Anchor" was about when he asked his girlfriend to marry him, and while"Magnolia Tree" written with Clare added a little pace to the evening it was about marrying the one you love.
He was certainly an excellent guitarist and would pop up later in the evening as one of the guitarists in his sisters band.
When Striking Matches played Bush Hall earlier in the summer the set was roughly divided into 2 parts the first half loud raw and electric, the second more back to their acoustic roots, tonight we got a reprise of the first half! For the fashionistas amongst you, Justin had a 2 song jacket, ie 2 songs before he took it off while Sarah continued her run of quite stunning outfits that she has worn this summer.
Their astonishingly short set was pretty attritional with each song having at least one, more often than not two and occasionally three guitar solos per song - which even as a fan was a little wearing and needs a little reigning in.
The material mainly focused on their recent releases and so opened with "Retrograde" which is built around the driving guitar riff, while "Medicine" was turned into a singalong with the refrain "Got to take my medicine but there ain't no medicine". The only nod to their debut album came with "Make A Liar Out of Of Me" which came with a blurring slide guitar solo from Sarah which was of the solos that worked best as a spectacle. The excellent "Shameless" on the night became a collection of solos with a song somewhere inbetween while the evening closed with their version of "Crossroads".
Clare Bowen when she appeared was quite startling, barefoot with feathers in her hair and with a cream dress and looked as if she has studied a lot of Kate Bush videos as she opened with "Tell Me" from the TV Series Nashville.
That was followed by the almost folky "Lijah and the Shadow" from her excellent album and this is where the evening got a little blurred as the new material did not always dovetail into the other material performed as well. Personally i'd rather have preferred a shorter show in a smaller venue with the focus on her newer material although i'm guessing from the audience reaction that i'd have probably been in the minority.
Songs like "Doors and Corridors" are deeply personal and came with heartfelt introductions which showed Clare to be somewhat of an innocent free spirit if not at times a little kooky!
Most of the better parts of the show came while she was performing her own material, "Warrior", "Little By Little", "Let It Rain" and "Tide Rolls In" all showed her talents to their best but to get to those there were many diversions as we had songs from brother Tim again, guitarist Colin Linden and from husband Brandon Robert Young, the latter who had 2 singing voices, one almost opera like high while the other was a more gravelly country style.
Of the Nashville songs "If I Didn't Know Better" was done as a duet with Brandon, while "When The Right One Comes Along" was done solo with just guitarist Colin Linden while "Black Roses" was probably the best delivered on the night.
The final section of the show was somewhat bizarre, first it was time for a Nashville song that was not even hers in the series, "Telescope", followed with a random smattering of general country songs, which saw "9 to 5", "The Gambler" and "Fulsom Prison Blues" reeled out as well as a song called "Who Stole The Whiskey?" which was possibly the lowest point of the night as Clare had to run around the stage to ask each member of the band the same question to an intensely annoying knees up of a tune..
The real frustration of the evening was that there was a great performer, with some excellent material but the vehicle chosen to represent them did not do her justice. .The chance to establish herself outside of the "Nashville" safety net was effectively wasted.