I wore my fringe like Roger McGuinn’s!
The man suffered two major cerebral hemorrhages in 2005, for a while rendering him in a condition where he could only say four things: “Yes”; “No”; “Grace Maxwell” (his wife); and “The possibilities are endless.” It seemed that the great voice of anti-masculinity was in danger of being silenced.
Collins’ roots are shambolic and twee, yet he has won back his abilities with the tenacity of an ultimate fighter. He has since completed two solo albums, Home Again and Losing Sleep, which was released in the UK in 2010, but wasn’t released in the U.S. until March 22, more than a week after his recent show at the Rock Shop in Brooklyn.
I missed the opening act, solo guitarist/singer James Walbourne, who is in the latest incarnation of The Pretenders and the also bassist for Collins’ band. Walbourne wasn’t listed on the site as an opening act and had I known about it, I would have caught it. I’m enough of a live-music enthusiast that I have to see every act. Oh, I’ve seen some pretty mediocre acts over the years but I’ve also been blown away by seeing amazing live bands I’d never heard of such as Sunny Day Real Estate (opening for Velocity Girl at CBGBs) and The BellRays (opening for The Damned at Irving Plaza).
Second opening act The Kinbeats are a foursome (three brothers and a cousin on drums) who said they left their native Germany to come to the U.K. to look for Edwyn Collins. Guess they found him! But their sound also owes a large debt to the other Orange Juice singer/guitarist, James Kirk, known for writing and singing slower, softer songs. (It’s telling that Kirk’s Orange Juice-era composition “Felicity” was sang by Collins in an upbeat nearly bombastic fashion but Kirk reshaped the song into a mid-tempo, low-key melody on his 2003 solo album You Can Make It If You Boogie.)
Dave Ruffy, despite his name, is rather smooth.
Patrick Ralla, a Kinbeats guitarist, resumed the stage with the rest of Collins’ band on this tour: Tom Edwards on blonde-hair guitar; Walbourne on bass; Dave Ruffy on drums; and Sean Read on sax and keyboards. Ruffy, a punk legend for his time in The Ruts, replaces for this tour Collins’ other punk-legend drummer, Paul Cook.
Collins stepped up to the stage with the assistance of a cane and Grace Maxwell. After he was seated on an unused amplifier beside a music stand holding lyrics sheets, he greeted New York quickly and launched into the title track from the new album, “Losing Sleep.” No longer able to play guitar due to the loss of use of his right arm, Collins didn’t elect for an easy set in the comfort zone. The big hits and favorites were played but he took a huge risk by playing seven out of the new album’s 12 tracks (keep in mind that American audiences weren’t familiar with any of the new album) yet they sat well with his back-catalog and even complemented the hallowed Orange Juice tracks.
Collins expressed minor irritation early on when there was some delay getting the second song started. “Dying Day! C’mon, now!”
It should be noted that while Collins doesn’t have complete facility of his unmistakable baritone voice, he has a great deal of it. His voices sounds as if he has a mild head cold. Mind you, Edwyn Collins with a head cold is still miles above most bands on their best days! As one ponders the mysteries of the brain, one could observe that Collins seems to have difficulty speaking words (such as song titles) that he is able to sing with ease.
I think my favorite part of the show was in “Consolation Prize” right before the guitar break when Collins held anticipation by saying, “Wait!” There were many other highlights. Ralla and Edwards on twin-guitar attack raised a great funk gnash during “Falling and Laughing” (introduced by Collins with “From 30 years ago, imagine that!”). Collins only did one song (“Wheel of Love”) from his excellent first solo album, Hope and Despair, but it is definitely a keeper for the set.
“Don’t Shilly Shally,” his first solo single and one of my favorite songs period, stretched out as Collins rose to his feet and tried to adjust the microphone stand. Thankfully a crew member raised the mike so Collins could sing “A Girl Like You” standing.
Are these the real Collins Kids?
For the encore, Collins called for a harmonica for “Searching for the Truth” in order “to do it justice” and pulled off a crisp solo. Collins’ son William stepped up to sing the chorus in “See It in Your Eyes,” at first expressing reluctance (“Let’s get this done with quick,” he muttered) but more than acquitted himself. In fact, he probably got the loudest applause of the night. A raucous “Blue Boy” closed the night as Collins gave a wave and a smile and thankfully didn’t say goodbye.
Set List: Losing Sleep / Dying Day / What Presence!? / Make Me Feel Again / Consolation Prize / It Dawns on Me / Wheel of Love / Home Again / Humble / What Is My Role? / Rip It Up / Falling and Laughing / Do It Again / Don’t Shilly Shally / A Girl Like You
Encore: Searching for the Truth / See It in Your Eyes / Blue Boy