“Lovely stuff!” – that’s what I heard someone shout out at the end of one of Leif Vollebekk‘s songs. It was delivered with the kind of aggressively supportive tone of a football fan on the terraces. It seemed strange given Vollebekk’s gentle style of music and the calm, seated arrangement in the venue. We were just walking into Whelan’s and the support act was playing to a decent crowd. The front of the venue was dotted with tables and seats occupied by those eager fans who had arrived early for a show that started a little later than usual. The fact that well-known Dublin musicians accounted for a large portion of the crowd is, I think, always a sign that you’re going to see a real performer with genuine talent. Despite the world’s easiest changeover, Sam Amidon waited until just after 10pm to walk onto the bare stage. With only an acoustic guitar and a banjo that looked almost homemade, the slender nearly-29 year old began with a quip and a song.
That kind of formula runs through his set with almost every song being preceded by a strange, funny or fantastical story. A young man who grew up in a world of folk music performance, he is effortlessly calm and confident onstage. The gags about avoiding the ashcloud and bizarre explanations of the meanings of seemingly simple and direct songs are all part of his stand-up routine. Like a touring comedian, the script is more than likely identical most nights but with the jokes delivered with such charm and the songs with such delicate panache, it’s impossible to spot anyone in the room who doesn’t look like they’re enjoying it. The opening track of his newest album I See The Sign is the most experimental thing he’s released. “How Come That Blood” features a stuttering rhythm aided by a buzzing synth, but tonight it is stripped back to his more customary banjo and vocal approach. It sounds great and – after the free lesson in flying around the ashcloud – it is followed by the next track on the album, “Way Go Lily”. This is the first time he calls on the audience to take on Beth Orton’s vocal duties and as they’re already sitting silently in the palm of his hand, they duly oblige. In less than an hour, he has covered the best part of the new record while also delving into previous album All Is Well for old favourites “Wild Bill Jones”, “Wedding Dress” and the stunning “Saro”. The stories continue with explanations of songs about sleeping on imaginary fuzzy donkey pillows and therer was a bit of banter with the crowd and the drunken, cheering girls in the front bar. A rather in-depth analysis of R. Kelly’s lyrical genius introduces the final two songs – “Climbing High Mountains” and R. Kelly’s ode to a utopian future “Relief”. Crowd participation is required to help turn this cover version into the sweetest moment of the night with everybody joining in to sing the chorus lines. Sam explains that the key to the song is that it feels nice to sing the parts that are true and it’s also nice to sing the parts that aren’t.
Leif presents Sam with a bithday cake and a bottle of bubbly in honour of his turning 29 in about a hour’s time as the bithday boy returns with his fiddle to play a short encore beginning with “Fiddle Mayhem”. Of course, at the very sight of a fiddle player, the crowd turn into ravenous leprechauns and begin yelling and stomping a beat to a melody they can’t quite follow. The sudden delirium might also be blamed on the fact that the gig has now crossed the 11pm mark – a shocking diregard for the welbeing of people who need to catch the last bus of a Wednesday evening. It’s all over soon enough though and the queue forms at the back of the venue to buy CDs and get a slice of the cake. After seeing his rise in stature and the increase in numbers from his visit to the Cobblestone last year, I’d hazard a guess that his return in the autumn will be accompanied with another significant swelling of demand.
Photos below, with Alan’s review on State and more on Flickr. Below is an mp3 of Sam’s recent cover of Katrina & The Waves’ classic hit “Walking On Sunshine” which was recorded specially for Brooklyn Vegan.