Liverpool Music Week Review: Seasick Steve at the Olympia

Posted on 12 November 2009
By Ed Devlin
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Liverpool Music Week presents
Seasick Steve, Liverpool Olympia

The garishly squalid Olympia (home of cage fighting) is filled to capacity with a diverse audience of blues aficionados, the curious and the plain curious alike. The rise and rise of Steve Wold, since an appearance on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny in 2006, has been remarkable for what is, at heart, raw, stripped-back 12-bar blues, steeped in old-school Americana.

With no support act to warm up a boozy Saturday night crowd a cheer goes up, in anticipation, when the lights so much as flicker. Eventually the cheering is rewarded as Seasick Steve appears with his trademark beard, John McClane white vest and beat-up cigar-box guitar in tow.

He’s accompanied by a grizzled drummer, and the pair are reminiscent of the White Stripes – albeit of pensionable age. Indeed Steve owes a great deal to Jack White, who popularised, and reinvigorated, the blues in the last decade, as well as introducing a new generation of music fans to a genre that gave the world rock ‘n’ roll.

Much is made in the music press of Steve’s hobo shtick, with his homemade instruments and vagrant-like appearance, and it’s difficult to know whether the theme of the wandering minstrel has any authenticity or is merely a hollowed-out cadaver of a bygone era: if it ever really existed in the first place. Even the stage decor plays into the ragged image, with the lights looking like they’ve been pilfered from somebody’s Christmas tree.

Songs such as ‘I Started Out With Nothing’, while musically proficient with stomping drumming and excellent bottleneck guitar, romanticise homelessness; and with Steve now selling albums by the barrel load the facade becomes, almost, wafer thin.

The music should be raucous and raw, alive and vibrant; the songs of the down and out; the voice of the downtrodden. Instead, it’s a pastiche, a mirage. And the truly abysmal sound in the venue doesn’t help: the music carries a few rows before dying into a barely audible muffle. Although, as a crowd pleaser he earns his money and the audience lap up the louder and fast-paced, numbers.

And it’s this that is the problem. Instead of giving the fans what they so clearly want, the gig is terribly disjointed; there is no momentum built up. Every few songs Steve gives the stage up to his son, with his plaintive balladeering that is wholly unsuited for a Saturday night in the city, which is evidenced by the chattering of the masses drowning out his melancholic songs.

Rather than showcasing his son during the set and having an interval it would have helped to have a support and then blast out the blues boogie that everyone paid to hear.

Seasick Steve has reached a high-level of commercial success, but in the end it all smells and feels a bit like Blues Music For Dummies.