BUSH HALL, LONDON Monday March 1, 2004 Rouse closes the first of two nights here with a version of Neil Young's "For The Turnstiles" so intense and intimate that when he sings the line "though your confidence may be shattered" we all inwardly go "uh-oh",and when he adds "it doesn't matter" we all go "phew, what a relief". His crowd are rapt throughout, whooping at every intro like he's just won the Superbowl.

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Josh Rouse

BUSH HALL, LONDON

Monday March 1, 2004

Rouse closes the first of two nights here with a version of Neil Young’s “For The Turnstiles” so intense and intimate that when he sings the line “though your confidence may be shattered” we all inwardly go “uh-oh”,and when he adds “it doesn’t matter” we all go “phew, what a relief”. His crowd are rapt throughout, whooping at every intro like he’s just won the Superbowl. They add the gospel responses on “Sparrows Over Birmingham” and hijack the “come and carry me away” refrain on “Rise”. It’s a memorable show, a glowing log fire on a frosty night, if not what you might’ve anticipated from the sunbaked 1972 album.

That album saw Nashville’s Rouse pitched as a blue-eyed soul boy, a man in thrall to period West Coast soft-rock. Reviewers compared it to Carole King or Steely Dan, knowing that to admit a (more accurate) fondness for Bread’s “Guitar Man” or America’s “Sister Golden Hair”would be tantamount to sporting a Magic FM car sticker. An album plump with mellow melodies, it boasted inner strength, daring you to embrace its laid-back sensuousness and soak up its, er, love vibrations. But though Rouse smartly begins by playing the LP in its entirety tonight, its perceived strong suit?its sound?is jettisoned. It’s just Rouse and buddy Daniel with acoustic guitars, Daniel shifting to a small keyboard. It’s “1972” unplugged. It’s Gallagher & Lyle’s “Breakaway”.

Which is simply fine. Two nu-folkies sitting on stools might not strike everyone as a must-see gig, but it’s riveting. Rouse is in exquisite voice, the audience awed (do not cough!), and the guitars jingle like silvery rain. 1972 seduces 2004 with consummate ease, the standouts being the candid “Under Your Charms”, the loping “Come Back” and the aforementioned “gospel” (his word) anthems. Then there’s “Slaveship”?”Brimful Of Asha” for the over-45s. After that, with the on-stage pair visibly relaxing, it’s pretty much request time. Among these: “Under Cold Blue Stars”, “It’s A Shame” and “Late Night Conversation”. Rouse introduces the “Turnstiles” finale as “a country number”, and finds this disproportionately funny, breaking into chuckles.

“We’ve just come from Barcelona, where it snowed for the first time in 22 years,” he announces. But everything about this is warm, molten gold, a long bath in the serenity of well-gauged bittersweet balladry. There’s a depth, an awareness of Curtis Mayfield/Al Green spirituality which expresses itself through gentle vocal grace rather than any neon manifesto. You flow with it and, oh, what a sweet surrender.