Newton Faulkner // Barbican, York // 29.03.17
Newton Faulkner’s performance at the Barbican on the 29th of March was early – the disarmingly charming musician took the stage early, and played to a mixed crowd of children and pensioners alike. Having been 10 years since the release of his first album, Hand Built By Robots, Faulkner’s long history of performance and complete mastery of his instrument is perhaps the most striking thing about him, aside from his impressive head of hair.
Faulkner played by himself, a rarity in his more recent tours. He’s no stranger to the concept of the one man band, performing frequently without accompaniment, and proved with each song that his songwriting remains witty and interesting, even when unfinished. He’s spent a decade perfecting a style of performance that allows him to completely dominate a room with nothing but an acoustic guitar and some fancy pedals. The warmth of his open tunings and his slap-the-crap-out-of-it playing technique provides the perfect bed for his voice, so much warmer in person than on the record.
His older standard songs shone through his new pieces as rare examples of charismatic and timeless songwriting, while his more recent works leaned more towards standard pop music. Whilst the work itself was less dynamic, watching him construct the sound of a full band using synth pedals and sheer skill was deeply entertaining. After five albums and a crippling hand injury, he’s found himself in every level of musical complexity, from sudden international fame to moments of quiet recovery. To be as exceptional as Faulkner, that wide range of experience is necessary, and he reminds the audience with every deeply resonant note and excited giggle that he’s an expert at his craft. Silhouetted like a lion, roaring his way through his hits and his quiet unfinished compositions, his poise and his care make watching him play feel like incredible fun.
Sheer musical talent aside, his performance made one thing abundantly clear – Newton Faulkner is so darn lovely. His stage conversation, delivered to a room full of people who couldn’t reply, was a genuine display of comfort and friendliness not often found outside of open mics or living room concerts for close friends. His reputation for being one of the kindest musicians precedes him, with merely mentioning his name often prompting stories from people about times he’s hung around in hotel lobbies and sung Happy Birthday to strangers in the middle of sets. He performed with complete ease, but the true light of his set was in the energy he carries around with him. He makes a sold out room feel like a personal concert, and carries with him a levity between songs that totally breaks down the barrier between the audience and the stage. He messes around with guitar tone, muses about unfinished songs, occasionally asking the audience if his song sounds better with his capo on a different fret. After 40 minutes, he closed with a striking cover of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – a performance he refers to as his “party trick”. Not only did the audience want to hear more from Faulkner, but we all left wanting to be his friend.