Gig Review by Toni Woodward

Shawn Smith

Photo by Tony Hackett

Shawn Smith is the prolific vocal and creative driving force behind a number of bands over the past twenty years or so, namely Brad, Pigeonhed and Satchel; however he is still relatively unknown and this is clear from the small number attending this intimate show. As he enters the stage, looking like a young Leon Russell, Smith engages with the audience straight away as he takes his seat at the keyboard and begins with the Satchel song Suffering.  Shawn’s voice powers over the keyboard and his distinctive vocal style takes you back to an era of the mid ‘90’s due to his involvement in so many influential Seattle bands. Through his use of humour Shawn Smith made the night informal, and it was more like a friend playing to a group of mates which led to some supportive heckling from the crowd that was received and responded to with sharp wit.

Between songs, you get the sense that Smith is experimenting with various interludes, joking that he intends to use the higher register of the keyboard a lot as he segues into Some Never Come Home from Brad’s Interior album. Smith’s keyboard accompaniments are not especially complex but the simplicity provides an elegant loveliness which is exemplified with Screen.  The extended introduction receives an applause within a few notes and the audience’s focus is evident, however, at the pinnacle of the song Smith accidentally changes key and mutters “crap” before producing a dramatic tremolo ending.  After Wrapped In My Memory from Smith’s solo album Shield Of Thorns, Shawn requests a guitar pick and moves seats and begins to tune a guitar which he realises is the instrument that won’t stay in tune.  After a brief stamping of feet to jog his memory, he presents a cover version of Mother Love Bone’s Crown Of Thorns.

Having seen Smith play a faithful cover of this classic, it was interesting to see his alternative interpretation which was a complete reworking and changed its rock influences for country without losing the raw emotion of the song.  The move to the guitar is only temporary and Shawn returns to the piano for Buttercup that sees passion emanate from his being. He connects with the audience encouraging people to sing the refrain, which many do with full vigour and sees one person pre-empting a line and causing an amused Smith to correct.  An all too short set is completed with two Satchel songs, Not Too Late and Isn’t That Right both of which demonstrate how, lyrically, Smith clearly writes from the heart using straightforward language that effectively relays the emotions.

Shawn Smith leaves to resounding applause but his exit is brief and he returns to the keyboard for the uplifting Brad track, The Day Brings.  A minor juice spillage leaves Smith involving the audience in his humour with a debate about whether his white towel could be classed as racist before performing a cover of Purple Rain where he uses his voice to its full extent to add further expression. Unfortunately, the song is stopped as people are talking and Smith wants to know what they have to say, apparently the colour of Shawn’s rain to which he doesn’t respond and proceeds with the song. Purple Rain then seamlessly transforms into another version of Crown Of Thorns which uses the chord rhythm and key of the Prince cover.  Shawn Smith leaves the stage after an emotional finale only to be encouraged back for one final solo track, Wind In Our Hair which he informs us can be found on bandcamp. Shawn Smith is an understated performer who was comfortably hanging out in the bar prior to taking the stage, yet his performance is delightfully powerful and clearly demonstrates why he has been called “Seattle’s best kept secret”.

Set List: Suffering / Some Never Come Home / Screen / Wrapped In My Memory / Crown of Thorns / Buttercup / Not Too Late / Isn’t That Right Encore: The Day Brings / Purple Rain / Crown of Thorns Encore 2: Wind In Our Hair

Leave a Reply