Originally from Saskatchewan, Canada, Colter Wall has been building a name for himself as one of the leading traditional country artists since the release of his self-titled debut album last year. Now, following the UK release of his Imaginary Applachia EP, he’s embarked on a short UK tour including a sold-out performance at London’s Bush Hall.
Wall took to the song alone with his guitar at around 9 PM to wild applause from the crowd, and launched into Thirteen Silver Dollars, the opening track from his debut album. The driving rhythm and twang of the melody balanced really well alongside Wall’s surprisingly deep yet rich vocal, and I loved the storytelling in the lyrics as well. He got a huge cheer from the audience at the end as well, which set the template for the rest of the evening as they hung on his every word. From there he moved into the melodic Codeine Dream, where the simple arrangement allowed his vocal and lyrics to really stand out.
Throughout the set Wall mixed original tracks from his album and EP with new material and a few covers. The latter included showing off his guitar-playing skills an uptempo take on the traditional Railroad Bill and The Carter Family’s Wabash Cannonball, which he described as ‘one of my favourite tunes’. He was also able to easily switch between musical styles on songs such as the strangely soulful John Byers and the folk-influenced yet sparse The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie. In particular I was impressed by the control he showed in Plain To See Plainsman (including a spot of yodelling!) and his version of Townes Van Zandt’s Snake Mountain Blues. You got the sense that if he really wanted to let go and belt the songs out he could, but the fact that he didn’t made them much more powerful.
For me the standout moment of the show was the murder ballad Kate McCannon. Wall’s subdued delivery of the song really brought his skills as a lyricist to the fore, whilst creating a sense of foreboding and intensity that made the song a lot more unsettling and impactful. Other highlights included the gentle and oddly romantic Caroline and the mournful yet nostalgic Me and Big Dave, whilst among the new songs the wordplay of One Last Stop and the midtempo Train’s A-Gone were particularly strong. Although Wall didn’t interact all that much with the crowd (to the extent of completely ignoring various hecklers), he did speak very openly about the autobiographical nature of his songs – many of which were drawn from the town he grew up in – and showed his deadpan sense of humour.
Wall closed the show with Sleeping on the Blacktop, which in my view summed up his show perfectly with its balance of stomping rhythm and bleak lyrics. It was absolutely mesmerising and when he finished the crowd, who had been clapping and singing along throughout the performance, erupted into thunderous applause and cheers.
Overall I was seriously wowed by Colter Wall. He brought the perfect mix of warm vocals, excellent lyrics and impressive guitar-playing to his jam-packed set and showed why he’s at the forefront of the traditional country music revival. I’m really looking forward to hearing more from him and can’t wait until he comes back to the UK. My only complaint is that there wasn’t an encore!
Set list: 1. Thirteen Silver Dollars 2. Codeine Dream 3. You Look To Yours 4. John Byers 5. Railroad Bill (Ramblin’ Jack Elliott cover) 6. The Devil Wears A Suit And Tie 7. Plain to See Plainsman 8. Motorcycle 9. Kate McCannon 10. Saskatchewan in 1881 11. Living On the Sand 12. Snake Mountain Blues (Townes Van Zandt cover) 13. Wabash Cannonball (The Carter Family cover) 14. Caroline 15. One Last Stop 16. Train’s A-Gone 17. Me and Big Dave 18. Sleeping on the Blacktop Performance date: Tuesday 6th February 2018