LIVE: Noah Gundersen & Harrison Whitford – Gorilla, Manchester

And so we find ourselves in the weirdly subterranean groundfloor Gorilla, a slightly dank mobile blackspot with a wall of what look like old fashioned oven doors and, seemingly, a noisy bar around just about every corner to see Noah Gundersen, and his support Harrison Whitford.

Harrison Whitford first: imagine an antsy Beatnik, the Coen Brothers’ Llewyn Davis, overly dressed for a grubby Manc night out, hunched over a rather nice looking, muted turquoise electric guitar mumble-singing the saddest of sad confessionals, in almost Kozalek-like diary fashion (and, like Mark Kozalek, imagine delivery that attempts to raise banalities to profundities, lyrics that think they might possibly be ‘all that’ – even if on first listen, they’re not, quite). Washed in the kind of reverb you imagine would provide succour to someone on long-term medication, Whitford still wins the crowd over: there is much laughter, much applause, all round appreciation, especially when he is joined on stage by the evening’s star attraction who provides warm acoustic and generously hushed backing vocals to the climax of the set.

And then it’s over to Noah Gundersen himself, a good looking 30 year Seattle boy who these days looks like a young Eminem with killer cheekbones (in no way resembling the long-haired, bespectacled youth adorning his wiki page). Kicking off with ‘Robin Williams’ from his most recent album, Lover, Gundersen plays a gentle, insistent acoustic (framed by some exemplary electric guitar accompaniment from Whitford), and sings heartfelt, plaintive words that seek to find answers to some of the big questions in life (“It makes no difference what you’re making / the reaper makes the final joke / I gather my impressions of the universal sigh / and hope someone is listening to the radio tonight’).

It’s possible that the harder hearted amongst you would dismiss him and Whitford both as the epitome of snowflakiness, in that this is gentle music for gentle people (music often drowned out by the noise from the bars) – but at his best (on songs like ‘Ledges’, ‘Watermelon’ and ‘Lose You’ – all of which are given an airing) you can see that his music means something to the people in the audience. These are songs that lift you if you need lifting, coax you if you feel you can’t be coaxed, slip an arm about your shoulder, if you need it. Yes, there are times when you can imagine some of these songs appearing in an episode of Dawson’s Creek, but there are also times when you can’t help but be gripped by what he’s doing.

He’s also – thank the Lord – a funny fucker when he wants to be (see the sweet cover of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ which a member of the audience starts singing before him, drawing a curse and a request that people stay away from the internet). We also get a Tom Waits cover before the night is out (drawing much in the way of appreciation from the older members of the audience) which probably marks out Gundersen’s territory far more than the Houston cover does. Like he sings on ‘Watermelon’, “It’s not easy to please me, I know” – but for the most part, he plays an entertaining set and we leave imagining that he’s gonna be someone worth keeping an eye on in the coming years.

Words by Pete Wild

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