A quick google search of KARL BLAU will return images of Blau fantastically clad in rhinestones, cowboy hats and embroidered jackets, along with articles fawning over his most recent release, Introducing Karl Blau (and rightly so). Introducing…, is a catalogue of country-soul covers of mostly Nashville classics, the careful selection and alignment of which, create a beautiful tale of love, loss, adventure and hope. You’d be forgiven to assume the Nashville stuff was his niche – his sonic and literal home actually lies within the American North West indie scene, where he’s heralded as an integral foundation. His back catalogue, (most of which proudly fill the racks in K Records – which includes releases from Beck and Kimya Dawson of the Moldy Peaches) is a diverse exploration and representation of his enthusiasm and passion for music. So tonight, I’m left with an itching curiosity as to what corner of Karl’s world we’ll explore.
Which’ll have to wait as it’s ASTLES who’s first to mount the stage at Leaf tonight. A large, receptive and reverent crowd overlook Astles as he solitarily occupies the front of the stage. Unassuming and restrained he stays rooted to the centre of the stage, his guitar twines minimalist, delicate but evocative lulling-fabrics. His presence, in lack of a band is slight, however his pained, sonorous voice fills the open spaces of the room. His set is short, although it’s stuffed with sincerity and honesty.
A small collection of cowboy hats drift along the crests of the crowd, as Karl and the band make their way to the stage. The first few notes of Woman (Sensous Woman) spiral from a pedal guitar and the scene is quickly set for Blau’s brand of Tennessee drenched country-folk. Blau’s deep mellifluous voice floats around the room, the pain and sorrow of Let The World Go By reverberates a deeper sense of loss, honeyed with a sweeter sense of hope, through the medium of Karl’s humanising voice. The majority of the set is devoted to his most recent release, however, a few articles from his catalogue get a country lacquer. Slow Children, is a highlight, a heartfelt tribute to his childhood cat, who was run over by a car; the chorus delivering a melodic reminder of the naivety and frailty of youth.
At times there is nothing much to say about the performance; the songs are performed so seamlessly, care free and professional, it leaves little to critique and explore. Much like Ronnie O’Sullivan playing with his left hand or Manchester United bringing on Phil Neville at half time, the band showboat by switching up positions with a playful glee, and continue to coast along the set. Blau and his band are affable, fun and evoke the hospitality and nature of a country joint’s resident band.
What continues to intrigue me most about Blau is his seeming ability to adopt a style of playing or a musical genre, master it, and make those songs his own. The gig has catalysed my interest into the scope of Blau as a multi-instrumentalist, a portrayer of characters and storyteller. It will be interesting to see where Blau will expand, what direction he’ll take. But in the meantime, for the next few weeks, my idle afternoons will be spent delving myself into his K Records back catalogue and his world of DIY releases, in the hope of gaining a further appreciation of the man.