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The Willard Grant Conspiracy recently toured Europe to promote their new album 'Let It Roll' with frontman Robert Fisher's fellow Californian Steve Wynn as a support act. Anthony Strutt watches both bands play passionate sets at Dingwall's in London
This is pretty much the perfect double bill, and is shared by friends and played to people whom love both artistes to their very core.
Steve Wynn is a Californian who lives in New York, and who plays like his life depends on it, always. There is no such thing as a bad Wynn album or gig. Tonight, he opens for his friend and fellow Californian, Willard Grant Conspiracy front man Robert Fisher, with whom he recently co-wrote a song 'Flying Low', which appears on that band's sixth and latest album 'Let It Roll' and which they later jointly play together.
Steve arrives on stage and delivers a reading accompanying himself with just an acoustic guitar of his normal closing number, 'The Days of Wine and Roses', which was the title track of his former band the Dream Syndicate's first full length album back in 1982. This version has a riffy feel and recalls the Smiths 'Barbarism Begins at Home'.
After this he is joined by Jason Victor, who plays in his current backing band the Miracle 3 and who is also the guitarist in the latest line-up of the Willard Grant Conspiracy. Steve tells us, that he is feeling nostalgic tonight because Dingwalls is the first place that the Dream Syndicate ever played, without a soundcheck, when they first toured the United Kingdom back in 1984. Steve and Jason then play a song that the Dream Syndicate probably played that night, 'Merritville'. Jason also plays the acoustic guitar. The song is played well and sounds smooth compared to its recorded version.
Willard Grant Conspiracy double bassist Eric Van Loo then comes on the stage, and Steve tells us that when Robert asked him to join the tour he knew it would be good because they would share the same musicians. They then go traight into 'Wild Mercury' from '...tick... tick...tick...', Stve's latest album.
They then launch into the Dream Syndicate's 'There Will Come a Day', upon which Steve confesses to us all that he "likes to mix all my seven deadly sins up in one as that way you dont get a hangover".
'Turning of the Tide' follows and then keyboard player Yuko Murata joins for 'The Deep End', a song about the positive side of drowning !!!
Violinist Josh Hillman joins the stage, and they play another old Dream Syndicate number, 'The Medicine Show'. 'Carolyn' follows from the first Steve Wynn solo CD, 'Kerosene Man'. The whole thing comes to a close with the full-on guitar attack of 'Amphetamine' which sounds like an acoustic Velvet Underground with Cale on viola.
It is pretty near perfect, and this is the warm up.
The Willard Frant Conspiracy are not a band you just stumble on. They normally come to you via word of mouth. I have been seeing them since 1999 through, of course, a friend's word of mouth. Robert Fisher is a big guy with a dark heart and a lovely humanity to him,. Tonight he thanks everyone whom stopped by to introduce themselves at the merchandise stall, where he spent ages signing CDs for just about everyone in the venue.
He tells us that this "is the biggest living room I have ever had" and announces that are going to play a lot of material from the new album which they previewed on the road before finally recording, but they in fact open with an old song, 'Sticky'.
The second song 'No Such Thing as Clean' he tells us is about "toxic things like people and substances" and is a hard edged rocker with big drums.
The song that follows this, 'The Trials of Harrison Hayes', is about a coal-mining snake-handling minister and ancestor of Robert's who drank strychine and which goes down very well.
'The Ghost of the Girl in the Well', a dark tale about a slave girl's death after following down a well and which like 'The Trials of Harrison Hayes' comes from the band's previous album 'Regard the End' which came out in 2003, follows and recieves big cheers. It features heavy viola from Josh Hillman that has you almost in tears. Robert's strumming assists this well. His vocal is drawn out and slow, while Yuko's keyboards float in and out.
'Skeleton' has a dancey feel and this is followed by garage rock track 'Crush', which like the previous track comes from the new album. Robert explains beforehand that a friend of the band's in Brighton was fed up with the Willard Grant Conspiracy being described by critics as an Americana act and decided to call them a "Folk garage" act. While 'Crush' represents the garage side of what they do, the next track, 'River in the Pines',which appeared on their first album, is from their folk side.
'The Ostrich Song', which follows, from their long deleted first ever album '3am at Sunday Otto Fortune's', is delivered slowly and is well received. Next up is 'Lady of the Snowline', the last track from the new album, which is about fading away and meeting one's maker.
'From A Distant Shore' follows which is the first track on 'Let It Roll' and is an anti war song. Steve Wynn then comes back on stage for a fantastic live version of 'Flying Low'.
'The Ballad of John Parker', from the band's 2001 fourth album 'Everything's Fine', follows and is a heavy bass and drum-based track that is as dark as Nick Cave and has an elegant and head banging cool.
Robert says "Thank you for coming out to see us, because you could be doing something else" and then the band launches into the epic and hard-rocking title track from the new CD, 'Let It Roll'. At the end, when the band have stopped playing, Robert carries on singing, his voice howling the chorus over and over again.
Still the band return, this time with 'Dance with Me', a slow number with a sad violin,again from the new album. They finish off the night with 'How to Get to Heaven', a murder ballad from their 1999 third album 'Mojave'. which has a great groove and more promises of meet and greets at the merchandise stall.
A great band and a great night !
The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Laurent Orseau and originally appeared on www.hinah.com