Review: Joshua Burnside – The Empire, Belfast

Following Joshua’s album launch at Duke of York just over a month ago there was a lot of anticipation for his headline gig in the iconic Empire.  His album Ephrata has received fantastic reviews from across Ireland so there was a lot of pressure on this gig to not only be entertaining, but to live up to the high standard we have come to expect.  Luckily, he did exactly this.

The night had an array of talent on the stage from the soft vocals of Lauren Bird to the exciting and dynamic stage presence of Son of the Hound.  Lauren Bird entered the stage with just her ukulele and her microphone.  Her music was incredibly soothing and her lyrics seemed incredibly personal.  Her cover of Nirvana’s ‘All Apologies’ was very touching and a nice surprise to her set.  I did however feel that Lauren was almost lost on the stage – perhaps it was because we had such big personalities the whole night that Lauren somewhat faded a bit.  I would love to see her perform this set in a much more intimate setting where we can truly appreciate her poetic lyricism and calming vocals.

The band preceding Joshua were Son of the Hound.  They brought an incredible energy to the room and completely changed the dynamic.  We went from the soft and beautiful vocals of Lauren Bird to the fun and exhilarating Celtic tones of Son of the Hound.  They opened their set with the uplifting I.O.U before moving onto The Kooks-esque track ‘Angie’.  The band managed to get to their third song before remembering they needed to let everyone know who they were.  There was so much crowd interaction inbetween songs that was nothing short of hilarious.  We were introduced to the lead singer whom referred to himself as Marv from Home Alone (the resemblance was uncanny).

The guys played quite a diverse set list – some tracks were comparable to Cage the Elephant whilst others were full on upbeat Celtic folk.  It was very impressive to see the style change from track to track and we even got a glimpse into a new song ‘Won’t Be Long’ which had never been played.  I was very impressed with their set up and feel they really brought the energy into the venue.

After we all did our mad dash for a drink and cigarette we welcomed our main headliner, Joshua Burnside to the stage.  The set opened with ‘Tunnels pt 1’ before he went onto the more upbeat ‘Little Blind’.  From as soon as Josh started his first song, the crowd were completely engrossed by his playing.  He did not hit one bad note and had a real ease about him during his songs.

I was really pleased to hear he did not just play songs from his latest album, but instead opted for an array of tracks going back a few years including ‘Half Homes’.  It was a nice nod to the fans that have been listening to him for years.  The trumpet in this particular song was fantastic; we’re used to hearing a violin on the recording but the trumpet was very unique and not something you see a lot on sets such as this one.

The set did include a number of tracks from Ephrata including the brilliant ‘26th Street’, ‘Concubine’ and ‘Tunnels pt.2’.  It was uplifting to see a performer that has the same passion in both their recordings as well as their live performance.  As I was watching each song I genuinely believed that Burnside believed in his lyrics.  They weren’t just songs that sounded good (which they did) but that had an emotional depth to them.  This was demonstrated perfectly throughout the entire show.

A big highlight of the gig that received a huge reaction from the crowd was the performance of the song ‘Red and White Blues’.  It seemed to really strike a chord with everyone in the room as the lyrics are something we can all identify with.  As he sang “I was too young to care what flag was flown above me…Don’t paint my pavement red, white and blue I’ll paint it grey I’s my street too” everyone was either engrossed or cheering.  It was refreshing to see someone sing about issues that aren’t normally talked about in a big capacity.  Whilst there were obvious political undertones, it seemed more of a personal experience he was singing about as opposed to what he has seen or read on the news.

Burnside finished his headline show with an encore in which he sang ‘One More’, a suitable song title for an encore if ever there was one.  From start to finish of the set Joshua absolutely brought it.  His performance was flawless as was that of the band behind him.  He owned the stage when he was singing.  If I was to have one gripe it would be that I’d like to have seen a bit more audience interaction inbetween songs, especially in a venue such as The Empire.  However, this is grasping at straws to find a negative in the night.  Joshua Burnside is proving himself to be one of Northern Ireland’s gems and I look forward to seeing what the next year brings for him.