Ron Sexsmith – Islington Assembly Hall – 24th May 2017

Oh how I love Ron Sexsmith! This must have been my sixth or seventh time seeing him play live, but even before I arrived I had the highest of expectations for the night. It was the first time in a long while I’d seen him on tour accompanied by his full band. He’s just released a new album, The Last Rider, which is easily up there with his best work, and the guys playing on the stage tonight were all involved in making that record. Particularly his drummer and harmony singer Don Kerr, who co-produced the album and has been playing alongside Ron since 1987. As a result, I found this to be a show which leant much more heavily on songs from his latest release than previous gigs I’d been to – but this was no bad thing. The Last Rider material sounded fantastic and I got to hear a bunch of songs that have been rattling around my head these last few weeks played live: ‘Breakfast Ethereal’, ‘Worried Song’, ‘Who We Are Right Now’, ‘Radio’ and ‘Man At The Gate’ stood out in a set of stand-out moments.

Besides hearing a lot of great songs from The Last Rider, beautifully rendered with that extra sprinkle of magic only a live performance can provide, Ron had an extra treat in store. 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of his second album, Other Songs, which also happens to be my personal favourite. To mark the occasion they’ve been playing a lot of that material on this tour and they are responsible for some of the truly amazing moments of the night. The one that really punched me in the gut though was a special rendition of ‘So Young’, performed in a solo acoustic segment in the middle of the set. Ron said he thought this one would be appropriate tonight, which is his subtle way of paying tribute to the poor, young concert-goers caught in the blast of a suicide bomber at the Manchester Arena two nights before. But, despite the tears that welled up in my eyes during that moment, this was far from a maudlin affair. Ron was in celebratory mode, his real message about the terror was that we should all simply “keep keepin’ on” in the face of such things and Ron is an expert at keepin’ on.

His self-deprecating charm was not quite capable of stifling the triumph they all clearly felt about The Last Rider’s lead single ‘Evergreen’ making it all the way to number two in the Irish singles chart. “Not over here though,” Ron quipped, but it didn’t matter, that song, which I initially dismissed as a bit of cheese, sounded fresh through the flexed muscles of these old pros. A little totem that they still have what it takes to produce world-class songs that resonate with a wide audience. It’s a little old-fashioned, the way this Canadian guy works his craft: nostalgia and anecdotes, chords and harmonies – it’s beautiful stuff but it doesn’t have the electronic sheen or the urban edge that Britain’s mainstream music industry are pushing for these days. So a guy like Ron, who, if he’d released his first record in 1975 instead of 1995 would probably be extremely rich at this stage, gets somewhat overlooked by the UK's music press and radio. Still, he’s not doing too badly for it. This was the second of two nights at the Assembly Hall, although you could potentially have squeezed a handful more into the space, it didn’t feel like it. The response from the devotees made it sound like twice the crowd and the band at times seemed a little taken aback by the level of appreciation.

I could write on and on about all that understated showmanship, the way he cleverly guides us from one song to the next, with the band leaving the stage for a breather and, at times, coming in halfway through an acoustic song to great effect. The way they change arrangements just for the live show, to show-off the glorious sound of these five guys singing in harmony together. The moment where Don Kerr is actually counting in the last song of their three song encore, when Ron stops them to accept an unscripted request for ‘Love Shines’, despite the fact guitarist Kevin isn't quite up to speed on it. Suffice to say this was a magical evening that will stay with me for a long time. I hope Ron and his band can make it back to England again soon but, if they don’t, I can at least be happy to say they gave me everything I could have asked for and more tonight. Thank you.
Adam Kidd

The Last Rider album review:
Ron Sexsmith live Komedia, Brighton 26.10.15: