The last time Micah P Hinson performed at Islington’s Union Chapel he proposed on stage, which made it interesting to see what he might attempt tonight to top this.
The trick of course, was not to even try and compete, but instead to strip everything back to the absolute basics: just Hinson, alone on stage with an acoustic guitar and not even a roadie to retune for him between numbers. Ironically, rather than the fragile beauty his songs often possess, the result is almost brutal, rougher and more punky than he’s sounded before.
With Hinson, of course, it’s not just about the music – you get the full experience of damaged, rough-edged Texan indie boy, and tonight he’s on fine form. Wearing his credentials on his sleeve (almost literally – he seems to have come dressed as Elvis Costello) and on the body of his guitar (adorned with a ‘This machine kills fascists’ sticker), he breaks the ice with the audience by referencing underground comics legend Robert Crumb and “boobies”, starting out as he means to go on by interspersing his songs with long, often rambling but invariably entertaining anecdotes.
The set is a predominantly a mix of his forthcoming album …And The Pioneer Saboteurs, and the previous one, …And The Red Empire Orchestra – he starts with new tracks, including Take Off That Dress For Me and The Leading Guy, moving on to a set that includes Fire Came Up to My Knees and Dyin’ Alone, which he keeps for the encore. It’s a shame he chooses not to delve much further back than that; the Union Chapel would be an ideal live venue for some of the more fragile songs from his earlier albums.
The intimate setting and (sometimes too) clear acoustics enable the extended chat between tracks to work well, giving the audience the opportunity to hear idiosyncratic explanations of his songs, from teenage friends’ jail misfortunes to his own brushes with mental institutions (he soon realised he was far from the maddest person there and did a runner while he still had the chance). He also gives the full backstory of the snappily titled The Life, Living, Dying And Death Of One Certain And Particular LJ Nichols, his grandfather-inspired effort for an Amnesty International project that’s currently collecting songs from around the world.
The performance gives Hinson’s personality the chance to shine, winning over the audience even though the sometimes unbalanced (and a little overbearing) acoustics don’t quite work. There’s an energy to the performance that shines through and carries him along. As a showcase for his new album, it piques the interest and provides the backstories that would have adorned the sleevenotes in the good old days – a very personal insight into his world and music that we should thank him for.