Richard Dawson, The Aleph: Studio 2, Liverpool

Christy Smyth catches the occasionally funny, often heartbreaking Richard Dawson at Studio 2.

By Planet Slop
Fri 29 November, 2019

In October, Richard Dawson released his occasionally funny, often heartbreaking album, 2020. The Newcastle singer-songwriter uses his songs to talk about a modern malaise that feels uniquely British. Similar to his 2017 record, Peasant, each track is sung from the perspective of a different narrator.

Though the folk influences that have permeated Dawson’s discography remain evident on his most recent offering, 2020 adds anthemic pop choruses and synths to the mix.

At his gig at Studio 2, however, the synth is stripped away. Dawson plays guitar and is accompanied only by bass and drums. The choruses, I can safely say, don’t feel any less anthemic for this absence. Besides, the night is far from synthless.

What Dawson takes away, support act The Aleph make up for in abundance. The duo move earnestly between filmic instrumentals and playful synth-pop. If you’ve ever heard The Beach Boys Love You, you’ll know what to expect. They get a particularly warm response from the crowd of Radio 6 listeners, all of whom remain engaged throughout their set. As though to avoid breaking the spell, the band don’t talk much between songs. They keep their faces straight, even as the tunes become increasingly lively.

When Dawson comes out he plays tight, stripped back renditions of songs, mostly from 2020. The band occasionally transition into shambolic jams, but these never outstay their welcome or become over indulgent. Instead, they seem at home in these songs of pain and hopelessness. Between the jazzy drums and Dawson’s usual erratic guitar playing, the audience can’t help but remain entranced.

Everyone is on side, cheering and singing along with hard and heavy numbers like Two Halves and Civil Servant. Then, in the softer moments, they close their eyes and nod, knowingly. This is especially the case for Dawson’s solo vocal performance of The Almsgiver.

After the show is over I hear one attendee refer it as ‘shared experience’ rather than just another gig. It’s hard to argue with this assessment. Sometimes these songs can be hard to listen to. These songs about fulfilment centres and debilitating anxiety are packed with painful truths. At the same time, having these truths delivered in such an epic manner can imbue the songs with a sense of humour. In these moments you can tell, in the way members of the audience laugh or exchange looks, that Dawson’s lyrics do what all great writing should, make you feel less alone. This is evident just listening to the album, but the experience is amped up in this intimate, live setting.

Between the bleak, shuffling, Dead Dog In An Alleyway, the explosive outro of The Queen’s Head, and the abandon and momentum with which Jogging is played, there’s no shortage of highlights that generate post-show talking points.

Having said that, there is never a dull moment. The set list is coverless. Dawson knows he’s giving us exactly what we came to see.

The show closes with a performance of Soldier, a song taken from Peasant that is heartbreaking and hopeful in equal measure. The band loosen up for it, making it one of the most moving and emotional moments of the night. As Dawson sings, ‘I am tired / I am afraid / My heart is full of dread’, the Studio 2 audience, having a shared experience, simultaneously think, ‘aren’t we all?