Out To Lunch Festival
The Black Box, Belfast
Saturday 26th January 2019
The Delines played one of their first ever gigs at the Real Music Club in The Errigle Inn, Belfast back in June 2014. It was a stunning night of music lead by emotion and a new direction in Americana. A band that played country soul, and sang of the little guy, the addict, the broken and dispossessed. There was a austere reality to the lyrics, that sought to understand and empathise with their plight. Subject matter that really hadn’t been explored by too many others.
Four and a half years the Delines are back with their sophomore album. Belfast’s Black Box is packed tonight. Many who were there on that fondly remembered night, to see if the Delines could replicate that sound and emotion of four years ago.
If anything, the band sounds better than they did back then. The new material is just as poignant, but fuller in its delivery. This is a band for the times we are in.
A little back history may be required at this point. Following the success of their first album, ‘Colfax’ and an extensive tour, the band was readying themselves to record a second album, when lead singer Amy Boone was hit by a car in Texas, resulting in extensive injuries and a long journey back to recovery and the stage.
But back they are, and we are glad. Beginning with the tittle track of the new album, ‘The Imperial’, the sound is rich, full and beguiling, with the band joining Amy on the sumptuous chorus. But beneath that sweet delivery lies a tale of two broken people, one an ex-con and ex-addict, seeking one last rendezvous to comfort each other.
I know that the years have treated you wicked. I can see it in your eyes. And I don’t know what to do so let’s have one last drink. Hold my hand under the table before I leave.
The songwriter for the band is Willy Vlautin, frontman of much-missed Richmond Fontaine, and an award-winning novelist. Labeled “The Dylan of the Dislocated”, Willy, in novel and song celebrates the lives and struggles of the have-nots. The characters who permeate these songs have been beaten up by life, and yet there remains a bit of optimism.
Amy Boone’s aching, melancholic sincerity beautifully enhances Willy Vlautin’s ruminations on love, loss, and heartbreak. His stories of lives on the periphery of society, the lost, the beaten, the disposed, so memorably brought to life in his novels, such as ‘Lean On Pete’ and ‘The Motel Life’, have found a natural home and storyteller in Amy’s world-weary but tender and kindly delivery.
If you haven’t already encountered Vlautin’s novels, I would strongly suggest you do. His latest, ‘Don’t Skip Out On Me’ is a novel of honesty and majesty with a kicker of an ending.
Throughout, the band of Sean Oldham (drums, vocals), Freddy Trujillo (bass, vocals), Cory Gray (keyboards, trumpet), and Willy Vlautin (guitar, vocals) remain resolutely tight.
The music’s light touch, seems strangely to empathise the plight of the protagonists in the song, in the way only soul music can. In “Eddie and Polly’, a song of domestic chaos descends into violence, the music serves to make the listener question what is happening.
He busts his hand across her face. She leaves, but only for a day. Can’t you see, this is how heartaches are made. Can’t you see, this how the heart becomes maimed. Can’t you see this is how you make scars. Can’t you see, this is how you turn night into dark. And the party never stops. And the pressure starts.
The Black Box is as hushed and respectful, as I have ever heard it, transfixed by what they are hearing. Amy Boone’s burnished vocal, and Willy Vlautin’s searingly honest lyrics are a match made in Nashville twinned with Philadelphia, in the state of purgatory.
The characters are the songs are so well defined, yet there are Eddies and Pollys in every town. There is a drunken Charley in every city. ‘The Imperial’ becomes a metaphor for a world in which we co-exist with the broken and the empty who are all around us. Amy Boone’s tender voice imploring voice asks not for sympathy, but just to listen, and try and understand the mess. If the music wasn’t so beguiling, this would be a night for depressants to rule sway. But the music is a comfort, and ultimately uplifting.
Cory Gray’s trumpet lifts songs to a new height, Willy Vlautin’s understated guitar underscores the and fills in equal measure. And always, there is Amy’s voice. A balm to help the damage endured by the actors in the songs.
The audience pays its respects for a scintillating show, and the band has to return for an encore of songs first played on the ‘Colfax’ album, and firm favourites already. The quality never lets up; ‘The Oil Rigs At Night’, ‘Colfax Avenue’, and ‘Let’s Be Us Again’ are as lovely, as they are heart-breaking.
The Delines are a band to be set apart, in terms of their subject matter and the sheer emotional impact on the audience. I can’t wait to see where they venture next.