Since the release of his debut album In The Blazes in 2015, Aaron Lee Tasjan has become one of the most popular Americana acts in the UK. This was only cemented when his song Ready To Die, from 2016’s Silver Tears, was nominated for Internaional Song of the Year at the UK Americana Awards. In August Tasjan released his third studio album Karma For Cheap, and this week he travelled to the UK for a short tour in support of the record.
Accompanied by his three-piece band, Tasjan stepped onto the Omeara stage dressed in a very dapper brown jacket and mustard shirt combo, topped off with a hat embroidered with an eye. He kicked off the set with The Dangerous Kind from his debut album. It’s a sharp, twangy number with a classic rock vibe and got the crowd’s energy going from the off. I also loved his impassioned, powerful vocals – including the huge note he hit midway through! – and the experimental feel of the song, as he switched up the tempo throughout and layered electronic-like effects over the melody.
Throughout the performance Tasjan played songs from across all three of his records, which covered a wide range of styles. Songs such as The Rest Is Yet To Come put me in mind of the later Beatles albums, whilst the stomping Dime had an 80s feel about it. Meanwhile, Set You Free took on a glam rock vibe and the sunny, oddly optimistic Songbird had a bluesy, honky-tonk quality. It showed just how versatile he is as a performer as well as the sheer number of influences he’s drawn on throughout his career.
The diversity of Tasjan’s sound was only enhanced by his impressive performance. He radiated swagger and charisma and was incredibly animated throughout, and he frequently broke off to jam with his bandmates, giving the whole performance a really intimate feel. I also found him very warm and engaging as he made self-deprecating jokes and told the audience the stories behind his songs, including Judee Was A Punk, a warm and affectionate homage to folk singer Judee Sill. Meanwhile, his vocals ranged from David Bowie-esque on The Truth Is So Hard To Believe to soaring and quick with a hint of drawl on Heart Slows Down.
One of the highlights of the set for me was Memphis Rain. Tasjan introduced the song by talking about a gig he played in the city with one enthusiastic audience member which inspired the track, as well as the beauty and power of music. The downbeat, atmospheric song brought out the soulful side of his voice and I loved the details and emotion in the lyrics.
Ready To Die was another standout moment with its cinematic intro, swampy vibe and breathy vocals. Tasjan belted out the chorus, hitting some incredible high notes, and showed off some fearsome guitar-playing skills with his fingers flying up and down the neck of the instrument. You could see he was completely immersed in the music as he span across the stage, and he crowd got swept up in it too as he encouraged them to sing along.
For his final song, Tasjan changed things up completely with an acoustic performance of Dream Dreamer, from his current album Karma For Cheap. The song showed off a softer side to him with its gentle, lilting melody and folky vibe and held the audience completely spellbound. As he reached the end of the song they erupted into applause and demands for an encore, which he obliged with an anthemic take on Tom Petty’s The Waiting (throwing in a snippet of American Girl to boot). His voice rang out through Omeara as he finished with a rattling flourish of guitar and left the show on a high.
Overall Aaron Lee Tasjan put on an entertaining and varied performance. He was absolutely mesmerising to watch, with a fantastic vocal range and great guitar playing that really emphasised the storytelling and detail in his lyrics, as well as a real showmanship quality. It’s clear he loves playing here in the UK and that the crowds here love him too, so it shouldn’t be long before he’s back over here – and hopefully playing to much bigger venues.
Set list: 1. The Dangerous Kind 2. The Rest Is Yet To Come 3. The Truth Is So Hard To Believe 4. Dime 5. Set You Free 6. Songbird 7. Memphis Rain 8. Judee Was A Punk 9. Heart Slows Down 10. Ready To Die 11. Dream Dreamer 12. The Waiting/American Girl (Tom Petty cover) Performance date: 2nd November 2018
See Aaron Lee Tasjan on tour in the UK this month:
5 November – The Maze, Nottingham
6 November – Night People, Manchester
7 November – The Prince Albert, Brighton