Brooklynite singer/songwriter Kevin Devine brought his fireball of energy in the form of the Goddamn Band to our shores last month on an EU/UK tour following the release of his ninth (yes, ninth) studio album Instigator. I caught the powerhouse trio in at Bodega in Nottingham and was so blown away that I had to see them again. So I headed to London the following day. Says it all really.
Kevin is no stranger to the UK, especially since signing to Oxford based indie label Big Scary Monsters back in 2009. He even told a comical story on stage (which he often does, as well as being an insanely talented musician he is also a great story teller, often making the crowd laugh with his touring anecdotes in between songs) which told of his first time playing a show in London; a support slot for a Norwegian metal band in a venue above a small pub. Over a decade later, here he is playing a headline show at the prestigious Dome venue in London to a packed room full of dedicated fans from all across the country. He says himself that his success was never a fluke. It never peaked after one sudden spurt of interest. It’s just been slowly on the rise since he started pursuing his music, and the current height of his *mental* growth chart could be mapped by the sheer volume of people singing their hearts out along with him at this headline show.
Kevin and his fellow bandmates, bassist Andy Prince and drummer Damon Cox, were joined on their 16 date tour by Laura Stevenson, a fellow native New Yorker slash singer-songwriter with a heavy folk influence, as well as acoustic melancholic folk-rock The Lion and The Wolf for the UK dates. With me not being a seasoned Londoner of course I got lost and ended up missing the first support, but I raced my way to the venue in time for an overpriced cider and the start of Laura Stevenson’s set. A mix of slow, intimate finger-picking songs such as ‘Nervous Rex’ and ‘The Hole’ and the contrasting upbeat folk-y speedy tempo tunes like ‘Barnacles’ and ‘Jellyfish’ liven up the crowd and keep the energy up after the previous peaceful set from TLATW. Nearing the end of her time on stage, Stevenson was joined by man of the hour Kevin Devine and the two joined forces on two songs, one being a song by Courtney Barnett.
It was soon time for the main event, and the crowd was ready. Standing near the front, I saw familiar faces from previous KD shows (unsurprising, as Kevin Devine fans are known to be some of the most loyal out there). A solo Devine walks on stage, guitar in hand, and opens the night with fan favourite ‘Ballgame’. A raw and emotional song, which touches upon alcohol abuse: “And when you realize it’s a pattern and not a phase, It’s what you’ve become and it’s what you will stay, That’s ballgame”.
It was special. It was unique. Not many artists will choose to open up a show with a slow song but it worked. And it was a lovely introduction to the evening. The band joined Kevin on stage and got stuck in straight away, powering in to ‘Just Stay’ and ‘She Can See Me’- electric songs with heaps of on stage energy from the trio. From then on, the trio just keep them coming, hardly taking a breath in between songs. Debuting tracks from the new album, of course the crowd already knew the words. That’s Kevin fans for you. Oldies like ‘Private First Class’ and ‘I Could Be With Anyone’ are met with intense noise from the crowd, all with huge smiles on their faces. As intense as the lyrics and aggressive the sound, the crowd are ecstatic and the whole room is radiating positivity- an after effect of every KD show I’ve ever been to.
Nearing the end of the night the rhythm section, presumably exhausted, leave the stage and Kevin stays to finish off their set with an encore of compelling acoustic tracks. An iconic song in the KD fandom, ‘Brothers Blood’, leaves the crowd silent. Awestruck. He ignores the mic for sections in the song and shouts into the audience, making it all the more personal. A true highlight of the night. Closing the show with a solo version of ‘I Was Alive Back Then’ from new record Instigator, the uplifting lyrics (which touch upon the birth of Devine’s baby daughter) radiate the same level of joy felt by the audience, leaving everyone in high spirits for their commute home.
The talent of Kevin Devine almost speaks for itself, with nine studio albums and sold out shows all around the world, it can be truly witnessed and agreed upon in person. Next time KD comes overseas (soon, please) I urge everyone to make it to a show. Even if you’re unfamiliar with his work, you are sure to be entertained and leave with a spring in your step.
– Sarah Lusher.