Live review: Eugene Twist at Avant Garde, 29/7/12

Eugene Twist doesn’t take to the stage with a flourish; humble about his considerable talents, ever the enigma, he simply tunes his guitar, plugs in his amp, gestures to musical wingman Nick Blythe and opens the gig by introducing himself and the song.

Which is not to say Twist lacks stage presence; quite the opposite, in fact, as he readily demonstrates during the ennead of songs that comprise this sterling set.

Twist lives a short stroll from this pub (disclaimer: I am not suggesting you stalk Eugene Twist), and seems entirely at ease in his surroundings, trading eye contact with those in attendance as he strums through haunting opener ‘Jerusalem’, one of several tracks to appear tonight that you won’t find on his wonderful debut album The Boy Who Had Everything.

Glacial and poetic, the song arrests our attention from the off, before the up-tempo, Bob-Dylan esque ‘Bonafide Renegade’ kicks in, with its feel-good, staccato chorus and lively rhythm.

Between tracks, Eugene thanks the crowd for attending while also hilariously pointing out the likeness between an alabaster-white statue in the background and guitarist Nick, which everyone seems to agree with as there’s a smattering of laughter.

Before Nick has the opportunity to protest, it’s on with the show and the summery ‘Gaugin’, the first track to appear from Eugene’s album, hits all the right spots.

This is the kind of sugar-sweet ballad best heard in the car, with all the windows down, as you cruise through a country road, fen meadows on either side, sun splitting the trees… alternatively, a regular road will do just fine.

At once entirely original and familiar-sounding, ‘Gauguin’ has a real 70s pop feel about it, spruced with modern spice and here, live, the tune achieves its own life, grainier and earthier than its more polished album incarnation, but just as spellbinding.

‘Halloween Drama Queen’, another new one, is introduced in grand terms, but ends with a twist of humour.

“This song is about a tragic condition that claims many victims year after year, and affects certain people… people who are dumped by their girlfriends on Halloween,” Twists laments, playing it straight, before kicking into the song, which bristles with energy and spirit, Nick’s sharp little solos adding an extra dimension to Twist’s infectious hooks.

‘If There’s Love Where I’m Going’, perhaps the most charming and catchy track from The Boy Who Had Everything is up next, and I can’t help but mouth the words and spot others in the audience do the same: this track just has it all, and while no-one brought along a sax to play the song’s middle section, seeing Twist live is different from playing his songs on iTunes; and the distinction is utterly refreshing.

The soulful, surly ‘Bohemian Hotline’, whose accompanying video is probably the best I’ve seen all year (think jazz era opium dream and you’re not far off) goes down a treat in these intimate environs, as does the mellifluous ‘It’s Down To You’, while a needle-sharp rendition of expert finger picking makes the sumptuous ‘Talk Of Roses’ a joy to behold.

The set comes to a conclusion on the notes of the nostalgic ‘Tough Act To Follow’, which is exactly what Eugene Twist is; dispersing from the venue, you get the idea that everyone, like you, is turning the songs over in their heads, stumped as to how someone so young (Eugene is 25) can be so bloody talented.

Words: Ronnie McCluskey

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