Gig review: Ray Wylie Hubbard at the Luminaire, London
In one of his many between-song comments, Ray Wylie Hubbard puts his commitment to performing down to “never learning to do anything else”. But it’s clear he puts care into every song he sings, so you never got the impression he’s just going through the motions. He’s obviously paid heed to his own advice to new songwriters: “The most important thing to ask yourself after writing a song is ‘Can I sing this every night for the next 36 years?’”
Dressed in a striped shirt, waistcoat, jeans and a beanie hat, his appearance was somewhat unprepossessing, as was that of his sideman Rick Richards. But as soon as they started to play, it was clear that these two have been at this for a while and know what they’re doing. He opened with a couple of songs from his last-but-one album Snake Farm. The title track appeared surprisingly early in the set but had the desired effect of getting the crowd involved and singing along early on. “I’ve waited five years to hear that sung with an English accent,” Hubbard exclaimed at the end.
In a fairly full, but not sold out Luminaire, Hubbard played acoustic guitar and harmonica, seated all evening. His only accompaniment came from Richards on percussion – but Richards managed to play a drum, a wooden block, tambourine and various assorted shakers, so between them they made a fine old noise! Next up, “Drunken Poet’s Dream”, which was also well received. Although co-written with Hayes Carll, it seems like they never got round to agreeing the final lyrics. So on the chorus where Carll sings She brings me roses and a place to lean, Hubbard’s version has him singing And then I’m gonna rhyme that with gasoline.
There were a few songs from Hubbard’s most recent album which had the catchy title of A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is No C), but it by no means dominated the set. In fact, songs were taken from all stages of Hubbard’s career, the most recent being a new song written just a few weeks ago. The oldest was “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother”, a hit for Jerry Jeff Walker in 1973. This produced more enthusiastic if disorderly singing along. “Take the money you were going to spend on CDs tonight and spend it on a pitch pipe and a metronome,” Hubbard quipped good-naturedly at the end.
All in all, there was some very funny patter between songs, including stories or mentions of Slaid Cleaves, Hayes Carll and Tony Joe White. The one criticism maybe was that one got the impression that a lot of his lines are well practised. Which is not to say they’re not very funny – first time around at least.
Hubbard finished up with an autobiographical rap ranging from his early dreams (for a stripper girlfriend and a Gold-Top Les Paul) to talking about his guitarist son. This led into a fine version of James McMurtry’s “Choctaw Bingo”. Hubbard has been nominated in a handful of categories for the 2010 Americana awards this year, so signs are that he is at last getting some of the wider recognition he deserves.
Ray Wylie Hubbard on Backroads