Shawn James // Live Review // The Empire Music Hall // Belfast
To say I am looking forward to this evening is an understatement, I have seen Shawn James’name on the bill in Belfast before but fate has kept us apart until now.
The dark-roots rocker plays one of Belfast’s finest and best-looking venues tonight in the form of The Empire Music Hall, a glorious building situated on Botanic evening and rich In musical history, every honest gig going soul in Belfast will have dawned its doors at one stage or another and tonight I am back to absorb the bey best the Shawn James has to offer.
Tonight he plays his first of four dates in Ireland before heading across to the UK to play four more shows before heading back stateside once again, this DIY musician has been grafting for a decade or so now and all those miles on the road have developed a character that resonates with honest music fans worldwide. His new album ‘A Place In The Unknown’ dropped back in Feb 2022 and tonight we get to sample these delicacies in the flesh.
Now Belfast could have given Shawn a warmer welcome but this is Ireland after all and it is winter so she gave him a shitty wet and windy night so the solace of The Empire awaits and at 8:30 Shawn takes to the stage, the Lone Ranger acoustic guitar in hand as he swaggers to the front.
The dappled light of the stage illuminates him as he breaks into song, right there right then The Empire falls into a deafening silence as all eyes are drawn to one of the finest voices I’ve heard in a while. The beautiful setting of The Empire Music Hall is matched by the glorious vocal from Shawn James. Shawn is then joined by his right-hand man on the electric fiddle/Violin and things start to bloom as they make the most beautiful melodic magic together.
The haunting melodic quality against the backdrop of an acoustic guitar reminds me what music is all about and why I fucking love it so much, Shawn takes the time to mention his appreciation for being able to play such a glorious venue, of his journey from playing Voodoo, and now here amongst a dedicated bunch of fans on a cold wet Monday night, everyone knows just how special this evening is. I browse the room to see one fan in tears as he plays “Like A Stone” the Audioslave classic one of Chris Cornell’s finest vocals and I totally get it, there are few singers who carry such emotion so effortlessly.
The end of this song signals the arrival of the band, drummer and bassist who break into a song right away, and nothing is lost in translation whatsoever, the dark emotive songwriting of Shawns flows out across the room, he throws in songs from his new album and back catalog and covers from his good friend Gravedancer to new tunes written over lockdown to the pleasure of the Belfast faithful.
For the last 30 minutes or so of the set the guys liven things up as the acoustic guitar is set aside and a Gibson Les Paul takes its place, the sound gets gnarly and beefier as they ramp up things to a crescendo, and the Les Paul replaced by a gorgeous Yamaha SG and Shaw and the guys take it over the top to rapturous applause from one happy Belfast audience. The calls for one more song! one more song as the guys try to exit the stage, so they oblige and play two more tracks that just nail the performance home, as the cries ring out once again and I start to make my way to the door to escape the post-gig stampede I pass the sound engineer who sees a signal from the stage for one more, to the “Ah Fuck Me Another One!’ look on his face as he thought his night’s work was done!
If you have not yet experienced a Shawn James show, do yourself a favor and get your ass to one of the remaining shows on this whistle-stop tour, you’ll not regret it.