David Ford @ The Borderline, London - 29.08.06
Tonight, David Ford is performing his first headlining gig in the UK since his better-idea-on-paper lunchtime show held in February at the Camden Barfly. It's a low-key showcase performance at Soho's Borderline, designed to give some record company execs a peek at him in action and get a bit of new material out in public.
It's fair to say that there's a certain level of... well, resentment, from the local fanbase, some of whom will tell you that he's been neglecting the country that gave him his break to go and ponce around across the pond. Between that, and the artificial nature of the gig as a corporate opened to the public to show the suits what Ford gigs are really like, you could be forgiven for thinking it might end up a bit of a washout. That is, until, you remember just how good a performance this man can give.
Appropriately enough for someone who takes heartbreak, loss and loneliness, then forgoes the self-pity to make them into something worth shouting about, the time spent performing to unfamiliar crowds with unfamiliar accents only appears to have improved his technique. If any artist can blow away the cobwebs of apathy, with pain that's as beautiful as it is biting, it's the man on stage, David Ford. Turning up tonight with a slew of new faces in the background, he makes things look almost easy, running through a set filled with old favourites and new material with a certain foppish charm, whether he's insulting the loose connections on his equipment, or bantering with the crowd when asking for requests.
Ford's band is less of a group than some kind of musical collective. Think Monty Python by way of the Arcade Fire. Ford has employed a constantly rotating lineup of talent playing a variety of instruments, and this time alongside mainstay Frances Law, a second Fordette on backing vocals. They run on and off stage like a slightly shambolic theatre troupe setting up for each new scene, before knocking out a perfect performance and then changing places yet again. They've got charm like no other band I've seen because the sense of fun onstage is palpable, whether they're taking the piss out of Ford for tripping over a guitar or trying to avoid a fit of the giggles as he repeatedly hits the wrong note while trying to play an oldie.
New songs, not yet available on CD include the brilliantly titled Scream Down St. Peter, where the title is also the hook, and the slightly less imaginitively-named Train, which shows more than a shade of Ryan Adams. They prove that Ford's solo efforts extend well beyond the initial offering, and promise to make the eventual second album as fresh and innovative as the first. Meanwhile, staples such as the self-deprecating anthem "Cheer Up (You Miserable Fuck)" and raucous drinker's lament "Nobody" have the crowd captivated as much as they ever did.
The high point of and David Ford set is usually State of the Union, his self-described "white boy with a guitar" pseudo-political rant during which he uses a loopbox to build up layers of beats and riffs by sampling anything he can get a sound out of, until at the climax of the song it all comes together in a cacophony of noise that echoes the apocalyptic narrative of the lyrics. It's the song and performance combination that's single-handedly converted more people to the David Ford cause than any other. Today, despite being as good as it ever was, Ford has finally beaten his best and moved SOTU into second place.
Intended to be the last song of the night, the failure of the crowd to agree upon a song for the encore gives him a chance to show off a new, previously un-performed piece. The ominously titled "Requiem" can only be described as State of the Union: Part 2. A spiritual and musical sequel to the original, this song begins with Ford strumming his guitar gently, and ends with an all-out screaming rock attack on the senses so ballsy that it'd make Chuck Norris feel inadequate. Lyrically, it's as full of satire and vitriol as the original ever was. It's guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser in future sets.
As if an ending like that weren't enough, a second 2-song encore is performed to sate the crowd that just won't leave. One of these songs is a new piano-based romance ballad title "Sorry Little Life" is previously unplayed, and clearly inspired (emotionally, rather than musically) by his recent stateside jaunt. After some indecision, the final song is decided upon and played, after which Ford, having finally run out of material, pleads with the crowd: "Please...go home now!" and after taking so much, the least we can is let him have his rest.
Of course, Frank Zappa once said that writing about music is like tap dancing about architecture. The best way to see what I'm talking about would be to download the audience-recorded bootleg, available off the David Ford forums here
The fun's not over, though! I didn't have a camera, but you can view pictures of the gig on Flickr and photobucket, as posted from the official David Ford site messageboard: