Amber Rubarth: 12 Bar Club, London, 3/6/10

I will keep talking about Amber Rubarth until there is no one left who hasn't listened. And then I will repeat myself until someone murders me.

A matter of weeks ago, I took a short trip to London, during which I was serendipitous enough to catch an Amber Rubarth gig. Although that may be less down to serendipity, and more to the fact that I flew over specifically for it. She was also gracious enough to allow me to pester her with questions and bad jokes for half an hour or so. Now, following some internal complications and day-job-related lethargy and skull-imploding fury, I’m presenting a series of articles based on that pleasant Thursday evening. Part two: the gig.

I’d like to think that if I ever ran some sort of public house, it would be loosely akin to London’s 12 Bar Club (except, obviously, without the rich cultural heritage, and with more drunken tramps). Here is why the 12 Bar Club is excellent: rather than chasing some ever-changing zeitgeist of what’s popular, or hip, or likely to attract much business, they instead play Seasick Steve on the PA system. And not just one song. A full album. In its entirety. Spoken word bits and all. And then later on, betwixt acts, a Tom Waits album. I love you, the 12 Bar Club, and want to stroke your handsome face.

Here is another reason to stroke the 12 Bar Club’s sculpted chin: a Thursday night double-header gig, featuring the wonderful Amber Rubarth and tour-mate Jim Bianco, for the princely sum of six British pounds. (Admittedly, this was still too rich for my blood, so I used my unimpressive status as a “music cricket” to get free entry. This may be a new low for my miserly tendencies. Then again, I once ate curry sauce off a park bench, so. Now where was I? Ah yes.)


I think it was when the crowd took Amber’s tentative invitation to take the chorus of “Good Mystery” and, incredibly, performed it in three-part harmony. I think that was when I broke my face smiling. You can take that kind of sterling moment to mean one of two things – either a) Amber has very talented fans, or b) Amber has the best fans. (And since I’d happily count myself as a rather enthusiastic fan, that rules out the talented bit.) The mixed look of surprise and delight on Amber’s face seemed to suggest that this kind of impromptu musical co-ordination isn’t commonplace in her crowds, which is disappointing in one sense, but hugely fantastic in a more self-aggrandising sense. Hooray – we were bestest!

I’ve talked before, expatiatingly, about how splendid Amber’s music is. Both on this interwebsite, and in the harsh, unforgiving climes of the “real world”. So I won’t repeat myself by noting how “Edge Of My Seat” is a finely-crafted pop song, or mentioning the cunning wordplay that makes “Answer” a joyful little thing. I will briefly say that “You Will Love This Song” is made of the most endearing lyrics, and cheekily reiterate my claim that “Show Your Weakness” deserves a gloriously overdone guitar solo. Because I clearly know best.

What deserves discussion is how charming a performer Ms Rubarth is: while her personality comes through loud and clear on record (and is one of the chief reasons they beat out similar releases from less engaging artists), her warmth and – for lack of a better word – “smiley-ness” really shine in a live setting. (“Smiley-ness” looks way too similar to “slimeyness” for me to be entirely comfortable with using that adjective, but whatever, man.) Introducing a new song about being jerked around by a guy, she explains its meaning through metaphor: “It’s like, you know when you ask a store to hold an outfit for you, and they’ll hold it for 24 hours, or if it’s a really awesome store, 48 hours? But they won’t hold it for, like, months? This is about that.”

Seeing her perform live also reminded me that she’s a deceptively talented musician: “Novocaine” is positively bursting with clever harmonics and guitar trickery, and “Washing Day”, played without amplification, sitting on the edge of the stage, was like the saddest and most intricate camp-fire singalong ever. Which, to clarify, is a good thing. (Although, for the record, while singalongs are great and welcome, adding superfluous vocal gymnastics to the song was a mite distracting, Girl-Who-Was-Standing-Beside-Me.)

So yes: a sparkling experience, and one I’d be raving about even if Amber hadn’t already been lovely enough to grant this waste of meat and bone an interview before the gig, and then dedicate a song to me. Braggy.

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