On a muggy night like this, The Live Room is a sauna.
I arrive a little late – just after the first song has begun – to find that there’s standing room only, and the sheer number of people is adding to the heat of the evening.
The upshot is that there are frequent breaks for Shindell to re-tune his guitar or the instrument he describes as “an Irish rip-off of a Greek bouzouki”. However, the easy charm of his manner and his ability to interact with a crowd as knowledgeable and enthusiastic as that of The Live Room ensures that the interruptions are less irksome than they might have been.
The first set he plays heavily features material from his new album, Careless. These songs maintain his penchant for story-telling and for inhabiting personae. There is even a song from the point of view of a cow, and Shindell notes his satisfaction at discovering that the title, Stray Cow Blues, had not been used before.
Other songs from Careless include Your Guitar, the tale of the progress of an instrument that travels the world through different owners. Most impressive is Deer on the Parkway, on the face of it, a simple observation of a pack of deer grazing the borders and median strip of busy road. But with hints of darker, allegorical and political meanings beneath the surface of the lyrics, he speculates on their past, as royal hunting targets, “The odd royal arrow a small price to pay / For keeping the poachers and their freedom at bay”.
A second set from the Buenos Aires-based New Yorker opens with “Are You Happy Now”, the first song from Shindell’s first album, Sparrows Point. This sees him apparently channelling both the vocal and lyrical style of REM’s Michael Stipe – clearly a kindred spirit, given that Shindell’s recording career includes at least one REM cover version.
This reaching into the back catalogue sets the tone for a more crowd-pleasing second half. Fishing picks up the balanced humanitarian politics seen in Deer on the Parkway, presenting a dialogue between an illegal immigrant and an immigration officer who veers between racist sneers and bullying on the one hand, and understanding of a fellow fisherman on the other. One of my companions laments the fact that the politics is not more strongly stated: for my part, I feel the balance is perfectly judged.
As the set draws to a close, Shindell starts to ask for requests and the devoted audience instantly fire back with a bewildering variety of their particular favourites. Two encores are needed to meet just a fraction of their demands, and the warmth of the night seem a fair reflection of the warmth of the relationship between singer and audience.
Richard Shindell is touring the UK during August. For more about him, including tour dates, see http://www.richardshindell.com/index.php?page=calendar
For information about the Live Room and their upcoming shows, see http://www.theliveroom.info/.