Review: The Delines – Out To Lunch 2019
The day before The Delines played Belfast, Hot Press plugged their show at Dublin’s Liberty Hall as the gig of the day. After hearing them tonight, they may have given us the best gig of the Out To Lunch Festival 2019 and a strong contender for gig of the year.
The band released their debut album Colfax in 2014 to critical acclaim. After a three-year hiatus due to singer Amy Boone’s recovery from terrible injuries sustained in a car accident, the band are back with a new album The Imperial. Alongside Boone (The Damnations) on vocals are ex-Richmond Fontaine members Willy Vlautin (guitar), Sean Oldham (drums) and Freddie Trujillo (bass). Cory Gray rounds out the band on keyboards and trumpet. Vlautin is the key creative force within the band, having written all of the tracks on the new album. They are hard to categorize – country/soul/blues but with something else interwoven through the music that you just can’t quite put your finger on.
Support tonight is provided by singer-songwriter Barry McCormack. McCormack is very definitely channeling Bob Dylan in terms of his vocal phrasing and guitar style, albeit with a broad Dublin accent. Singing tracks from his current album The Tilt of the Earth he manages to capture some of the lyrical poetry present in Dylan’s work and even manages to stretch some of his lines to breaking point, just like Bob. There are songs about drinking in bars that open early and late, and some commentary on the current state of church and state in Ireland by way of erudite bus drivers, Brexit, gangland feuds and soup kitchens.
The Delines are introduced by festival director Sean Kelly who bravely declares them to be “one of the best live bands in the world.” They open with the title track of the new album and the sound is glorious from the first bars. Understated guitar and rhythm, gentle keyboard riffs and then there is Boone’s voice – think world-weary Rickie Lee Jones or an older Gladys Knight without the Pips; warm and mellow but fragile and full of hurt and life experience.
Boone sounds a little shaky on the first number but by the time the band head into “Eddie and Polly” she is in full flight and the audience are completely enthralled. It’s an over-used cliché to say that you could have heard a pin drop, but that’s the only way to describe the atmosphere in the room after the first couple of songs.
The material is quite dark, encompassing everything from infidelity and abuse to depression, frustration and the trauma of returning army veterans. Most (if not all) the songs are written from a female perspective and with a female protagonist; credit has to go to Vlautin for achieving this.
“Eddie and Polly” is a great track – an upbeat 4/4 time song about a doomed relationship with Vlautin and Trujillo lending note-perfect backing vocals. The song doesn’t end but just seems to disintegrate and break apart, echoing the subject material. The smokey bar-room tones of “Waiting on the Blues” features Gray on the trumpet and conjures Tom Waits. The heart-breaking ballad “Holly the Hustle” features Vlautin’s crystal clear guitar licks acting as a counterpoint to a tale of family dysfunction, lost childhood, alcohol, violence, fraud and homelessness.
“Gold Dreaming” features some doo wop vocals between Boone and Trujillo and offers something lighter and up-beat, with Boone pointing out that she is feeling “super mellow” this evening, possible due to the CBD oil she has taken for her injured leg. “Cheer Up Charlie” could have come straight out of the Beatles’ back catalogue and “Where Are You Sonny?” tells the tale of yet another broken and damaged relationship.
“Roll Back My Life” is based around slow, rolling crescendos and Boone’s vocals become more earthy and breathless the more she repeats the lyrics. The band provide some great gospel-influenced harmonies on “He Won’t Burn for Me” and Boone details how intimate relationships age and change. The crowd leapt to their feet as the band set down their instruments and it was clear that there was no way they were leaving without a few more songs.
We were treated to three songs from the debut album Colfax as an encore, and each was a gem. “The Oil Rigs at Night”, “Colfax Avenue” and “Let’s Be Us Again” all lit up a very cold and wet night in Belfast.
There are so many great things about The Delines. Boone’s voice is soulful and magical and Vlautin’s songs are intricate and not just well-crafted but perfectly crafted for this band. Every member of the band’s playing is note-perfect and restrained, providing the ideal backdrop for the material and for Boone’s vocals. Certainly one of the best bands around for a venue like Belfast’s Black Box and one of the few bands that will capture your attention from start to finish and that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy for along time after you hear them. Simply marvellous.