Richard Hawley, Crocodile Cafe, Seattle, December 10, 2007
review by Spike
photos by Jim Beckmann
The best show I saw the the Croc all year, or the last show I saw at the Croc ever? Definitely the former, and let’s cross our fingers it won’t be the latter as well, given recent developments at the venerable Belltown nightspot. In front of a decent turnout for a wintry school night, Richard Hawley and his band were – in a word the Sheffield native himself might use – “ace.”
Hawley’s got the whole package. His voice is a luxurious, tactile baritone that would ring seductive if he was singing the phone book. He’s dapper (the classic blazer and cuffed jean combo of his rockabilly idols! Those marvelous vintage guitars, each worth more than a mid-sized sedan! And, by god, that amazing quiff); he’s personable and witty, and his songs are immediately catchy. Indie cred? Check – seven years in Pulp covers that. Add in a recent collaboration with Arctic Monkeys and a spot-on cover of the JAMC’s “Some Candy Talking” on a sampler CD (If you don’t have it, by god find it – RH replaces the original’s petulant spazz with a gravitas that recasts the song entirely) and we’re pretty much set.
Battling a sore throat more evident on his early morning KEXP in-studio than onstage at the Crocodile (again, back to personable – how many ailing singers would have bagged that morning session for a few more hours in a high thread-count hotel bed?), Hawley and his four piece band treated the crowd to most all of his 2007 Lady’s Bridge CD, as well as choice highlights from previous releases. A standout was “The Ocean” from – arguably, still his songwriting high water mark so far – 2005’s Cole’s Corner. Closing the Crocodile show just as it did his Tractor Tavern show of last spring, it was a textbook display of tension and release that bordered on stunning – a softly crooned vocal and some light brushwork on the drums finally giving way to cathartic, occasionally dissonant and sonically impenetrable washes of guitar. Early in the set came his single (at least in the U.K., where such things still seem to exist), “Tonight the Streets Are Ours.” To a friend I jokingly called this song the greatest Morrissey/Marr song that Morrissey/Marr never wrote, but after hearing it played on acoustic guitars during the aforementioned KEXP in-studio and with a jaunty bounce at the Crocodile, I’ll button my lip. The song is all Hawley.
So why isn’t Richard Hawley more well known? One answer might be the sheer timelessness of his songcraft. He’s not attached to a fad, and he doesn’t pander to the media by mainlining shoe polish with supermodels – in short, he’s (gasp) an adult in the youth obsessed world of pop music (and Lady’s Bridge is nothing if not pop music). Would his classic, 50’s-centric songwriting and sweet crooning be embraced by the Arctic Monkeys if he hadn’t served as Jarvis Cocker’s right hand man for so long? Maybe. But at this point, without gimmicks like a dime store drum machine or a huggably naive idea (“what if our song is full of… whistling?!”), the worry is that he’ll just have a cult following, remaining the alt.chrisisaak for the indie set, waiting for his “Wicked Game” to come along and pay some bills. In the meantime, we’ve got his albums – and shows like this. We’re the luckier for it.