Live Review: Review: Jack Ladder & Friends

4 April 2012 | 2:43 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

More Jack Ladder More Jack Ladder

As we climb the stairs, a solo figure is strumming gently in front of the gold Lurex curtain that curves around the stage's back wall. There's no audience chatter. The circle of fear is of massive circumference and so it's hard to find a nook. Our support act introduces himself as “Jon” and advises he's playing a selection of tunes from his vast career catalogue. There are a few chuckles before he assures us this is in fact true. Turns out it's Jonathan Michell from Mum Smokes, The Ancients and Breaking The Law so he ain't lying. Michell's trying out various songs tonight, mainly instrumentals, which he warns may turn out catastrophic. He performs with little conviction, but the worst of his sins is cutting each song off way too abruptly.

Making the most of this unusually balmy evening and taking a quick breather outside the venue means Jack Ladder is already onstage when we scale the steps once more. The joint is rammed and so this scribe is left with no choice but to penetrate the circle of fear. Ladder has a powerful presence and he's lovingly recreating Morrissey's debut solo single Suedehead. Usually covers of favourite songs grate, but Ladder's natural sense of pathos and quietly captivating persona make this rendition exceptional. The reverent hush in the room confirms unanimous appreciation. “Thanks so much for coming out tonight. It's unexpected,” he commends in that impossibly deep baritone. “Last night was cancelled due to poor attendance.”

Cold Feet is so beautiful it's paralysing. If experienced live while bravely standing next to an ex you're not yet over, prepare to blink away tears for the entire song's duration: “Like a sand crab in a glass pit/My world has changed/And the things I needed yesterday/I don't need in the same way.” While undoubtedly contributing to the overall haunting atmosphere of the song, lyrical phrases that float by largely unnoticed in the recorded version – overwhelmed by Kirin J Callinan's wistfully distorted guitar tones – rise to the surface with Ladder in solo mode. He points out a picture of Callinan that hangs behind the bandroom bar, observing, “It's almost as if he never left my place from dinner last night”. Ladder activates a drum machine for Position Vacant, which initiates a snarling tempo that evokes a rabid Rottweiler lurching against its chain. Ladder expertly controls this song's finish, choosing the best possible moment to kill the beat while allowing his guitar to peter out gradually. And what a beautiful instrument he's chosen to play tonight: white on white and polished to perfection. We get “the John Mellencamp version” of Dumb Love this evening and Ladder tells us this song also went through a Depeche Mode stage.

Once again with the extraordinary lyrics: “I'm a match already struck” is simply sublime. And who else could incorporate the fact that cows have more than one stomach into song? (3 Stomachs/No Weekend). Ladder bags out Jetstar since his box of merch is lost in transit and so the many in attendance are unable to purchase souvenirs. “How much for the shirt you're wearing?” a rowdy punter yells out. Ladder replies in trademark deadpan fashion: “It's not for sale. It's 100% silk.” He then pauses. “How much you got?” which cracks up the crowd. Ladder explains he wishes to play a softer version of You Won't Be Forgotten (When You Leave) “because the girls like it”. Making a Jesus & Mary Chain song his own to finish, Ladder excels on every level tonight: endearing banter and an expert display of his songwriting/performing prowess. Artists such as Ladder should not be roughing it.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter