One would think that playing solo in a near-enough 1,500 capacity venue, housing increasingly impatient fans of uber-noisey, post-no wave legends Swans might be a slightly nerve-wracking prospect.

Not, apparently, if you are James Blackshaw, who casually strolls onto the stage, takes a casual seat in the middle, casually picks up his acoustic twelve-string and starts to tune it – in a casual manner, naturally. He then starts to play, plucking away quickly and expertly, building up until the watching audience quieten down – or quieten down as much as one can hope for in such a big venue. Blackshaw is so relaxed, that at points during his set, while his right hand continues busily plucking away while he rests his left hand on his lap and looks around the room, lazily taking in his surroundings.

But this casual manner is by no means detrimental to the music, and the reason Blackshaw can afford to be so relaxed is because he is so very, very, bloody good. His guitar playing is astonishing and effortless, to a degree that you start to think he’s actually a bit of a bastard. How dare he be so talented?? What makes matters worse is that he’s a phenomenal composer with it – it takes skill to do a forty minute, four song set of instrumental, acoustic guitar in front of a crowd who have come out expecting blisteringly loud music and manage to hold their attention, but Blackshaw manages it, and he does it while being so laid back he’s practically horizontal.

Not everyone enjoyed it, however, and I should note the man who was stood next to me, who spent the entirety of the set shaking his head in exasperation and checking his watch. As Blackshaw prepared to play his fourth and final piece, the man loudly groaned, “Oh nooo, not another one!” And quite right too; here he is, he’s come out expecting to see Swans and enjoy ten minute-plus pieces of head-splittingly loud rhythm-lead dirges, and now he’s being forced to listen to ten minute-plus pieces of instrumental, acoustic guitar??? It’s a flippin’ outrage.

For the most part though, Blackshaw was triumphant. His soothing, impressive and haunting compositions washed over the watching crowd and made them all but forget completely the two hour wait they’d had between the doors opening at 7 p.m. and Blackshaw appearing at 9. That’s bad scheduling, but it’s a testament to the music that it’s the last thing I remembered whilst writing this review.

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Commenting On: KOKO, London, 28/10/2010 - James Blackshaw

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