Nick Mulvey kicked off his British tour at Exeter Phoenix on Thursday 9th October and it was truly something to behold. Although some reviewers have neatly labelled Mulvey’s album First Mind as ‘lovely’, there was nothing lovely about his performance. Mulvey and his band sounded so raw and personal that each song held an eerie silence over the sold-out crowd. I went to the Phoenix with respect for Mulvey as someone who has grafted and learnt music as a trade; I did not expect to hear all his musical experiments so seamlessly fused into one set.
The audience was reflective of the Phoenix’s target audience - made up of students, the ‘cooler’ parents nearing retirement and a few preteens nestling their way to the front. I was very glad to see (and hear) that the squealing teenagers were kept to a minimum. It was also great to see the amount of people who made it for the support slot, as Sivu - alternately known as James Page from St Ives - brought a dreamy feel to the Phoenix. His track, Can’t Stop Now, sounds slightly reminiscent of Maccabees’ First Love days. Whilst Sivu may appear more ‘out there’ than Mulvey (he’s been working with Alt-J and everything), I felt like he worked well as a support.
After a mere twenty minutes, Mulvey and his band took to the stage. With a very simple lighting setup, the whole thing appeared fairly understated for a Mercury nominee, which is the way it probably should be. As soon as Mulvey started his hypnotic, fast-fingered guitar work, the tracks that sounded so delicate on the album took on a stronger tone. Each of Mulvey’s songs offered something different, from his clever reworking of D.H. Laurence’s poem, Piano, in Cucurucu, to the trance-like Juramidam. Mulvey’s band helped the artist steer clear of the ‘man and his guitar’ image, but they were also great musicians, with a particularly powerful string section and female backing singer.
Songs that sounded decent on the album took on new meanings when played live. I had never noticed the use of 1990s club classic You’re Not Alone (you’ll know it when you hear it) as the chorus for Nitrous. Mulvey’s chat was kept to a minimum, but he managed to have good rapport with the audience, grinning “Bet you weren’t expecting that,” after his cover of Drake’s Hold On We’re Going Home. When commenting on his album, Mulvey stated that “Lyrically, I was going for words that came without too much calculation… I believe in a certain amount of consideration and revision, but I also believe in instinct.” The Drake cover was a good one, but Mulvey sounds best when playing the music that grew from this instinct of his.
After returning swiftly for his encore, in which he played the first track from the album, First Mind, Mulvey finished the night with a selfie with the crowd. Throughout the gig, Mulvey appeared humbled and like a genuinely nice guy, so by the end of it the audience felt he could do no wrong. As we were leaving, one member of the crowd commented: “My face hurts from smiling so much”.
Nick Mulvey will be touring the UK until the 1st November, after some minor rearrangements have been made due to - in Mulvey’s words - “the Mercury nod”. With some new dates added for next Spring, including 25th March in Bristol, there are no excuses for missing out on Mulvey live.