Review: Nick Mulvey @ Exeter Phoenix

Mulvey meets us there.

 While waiting outside the Exeter Phoenix, before the show began, I looked around at the large crowds hustling and shuffling around the entrance, unfolding their Nick Mulvey tickets from their persons. Some unravelled them from tight skinny jeans, others carefully revealed them from their aged leather handbags, and a few even whipped out their phones. But what this simple action exposed to me, was the diverse audience that Nick Mulvey’s music appeals to.

As a twenty-something year-old arriving at the Exeter Phoenix, I expected to be in the majority. But that was far from the case, and it is this revelation alone that positions Mulvey in a category far more intricate than the realm of popular music. The Phoenix is a grand venue, with multiple rooms that can be transformed into anything that a performer requires. Mulvey’s show was taking place in the large stage area at the back of the building, not as big as the Royal Albert Hall, (which Mulvey has recently filled to its maximum), but big enough to hold his beloved Devonian fans.

This was an unusual tour, with Mulvey stating at the start of the tour on his social media that there would be no support, but two sets of an hour each. Mulvey introduced his act by suggesting that it was an “experimental tour with no support” but had “so far been working well”. With that, he hoped that he didn’t disappoint us and if anything, he excelled himself.

He opened his set with two politically prosperous songs taken from his recent full-length 2017 album, Wake Up Now. These included his anti-fracking inspired refrain entitled ‘We are Never Apart’. He preceded his opener with an emotional soliloquy regarding the recent arrests of anti-fracking protestors in Lancashire. He commented that he “felt chatty” that evening. Mulvey went on to describe the incident and then dedicated the song to the three men who are currently serving time for their peaceful protests. Although removed from the Exeter audience’s immediate lives, Mulvey made the dedication seem personal and relevant to every single mind in the room.

If any of the audience had reservations about Mulvey’s ability to hold an audience with just his guitar and his presence, then his opening numbers immediately snubbed those doubts. What followed was a collection of his most recent songs, mesmerising his audience with intricate guitar playing, far too complicated to have been appreciated with a supporting band. He concluded the first set with his newest single, ‘Doing is Done’. It was the first time I had heard him play the song, and the personal gravity that the words carried was made ever more powerful by Mulvey’s soothing delivery.

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Mulvey’s sold out show at The Royal Albert Hall.

Image source: Chuff Media

The second set ensued after a short interval, with Mulvey opening with his 2014 single Cucurucu. He was seated during this song, not simply giving his feet a rest but enabling his physical presence to take a back seat behind what can only be described as a song brimming with beauty. The crowd were a little weary of accompanying him in the early stages. Yet Mulvey, with his ease and charisma, encouraged the spectating choir to participate and by the final reprise of the chorus, the entire room shared a single voice. This was a pivotal moment of the performance, as Mulvey had broken the wall between his music and the audience. What ensued was a performance of unity.

Mulvey continued to take us through his back catalogue, harmonising with the audience as he gracefully executed songs such as The Trellis and Remembering. Though, it was during his penultimate song, Juramidum, that the show escalated towards a state of autonomy and freedom. He switched up his usual acoustic guitar for a Gibson ES-175, converting his South American ambiances into a more bluesy tone. The subtle use of a loop pedal with exuberant riffs laid over the top produced a weighty sound that stilled the crowd into awe. It was a new side to Mulvey that very few get to see when he is accompanied by a band.

Nick Mulvey had done something that us critics and consumers see very little of; an entire two hours dedicated to the artist that we had come to see. It was highly demanding and both his body and mind will be feeling the full effects of such a feat, but as he repeatedly mentioned throughout the set, he was doing this for his fans. His art is important, but there would be no art without its admirers. It is refreshing to see an artist not only acknowledge their support, but then return the favour with a performance that’s both alluring and integral to their own career trajectory. I would not be surprised to see more artists follow in Mulvey’s footsteps over the next few years.

You can still catch the tail end of Nick Mulvey’s solo tour, running until the end of October 2018.

-Tom Moodey 




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