Review: Maverick Sabre @ Exeter Phoenix

Maverick Sabre played to a nearly sold out crowd at the Exeter Phoenix on Friday night and delighted his large, passionate fan-base with a mix of brand new spring releases and older hits.

OLIVIA, a London-based, up-and-coming, indie singer-songwriter, played a half-hour set to open the evening. Her pop-come-R&B sound and youthful, honest lyrics garnered the full attention and engagement of the growing audience throughout her set. Her recent single ‘Reason to Stay’ can be found on Spotify and has enjoyed significant success in the independent music scene. But it sounds even better live, its lighthearted lyrics and playful rhythms creating an intimate, relaxed atmosphere and winning over Exeter’s crowd, just as it has won the singer an online following.

Olivia Press Shot

Maverick Sabre later took to the stage with the happy assurance of someone who is confident in their fan-base and the music he is making. Perhaps initially known as a rapper, Maverick’s sound has evolved over the years into soaring melodies and harrowing words, and his new album When I Wake Up’ embodies this transformation. In it, the singer fully embraces his powerful and impressive vocal range and Friday’s set featured the eclectic mix of sounds and genres Maverick has become known for. Dancing the line between rap, acoustic, folk and funk sounds, the evening was one of sustained energy, powerful lyricism and unique talent.

The crowd was as eclectic as the music, with all age ranges and genders coming together for Maverick’s own brand of broad-reaching, soul-searching music. The musician held his audience captive, through both the playful interludes spoken in his charismatic Irish lilt, and his set’s highly original mix of songs, themes and sounds. The acoustics of the Phoenix did justice to Maverick’s vocal power and musicianship, making the album sound more raw and passionate live than on record. The energy and relationships of the band worked to increase the tensions and emotions in the music played out onstage.

Having recently cancelled a show due to losing his voice, Maverick’s vocals moved with agility across the music, showing no signs of weakness. Maverick opened with ‘Preach’, which also opens the album. It is a lazy-sounding, piano-accompanied song with a huge debt to blues. It grows into a layered, haunting soul track that muses on faith, sadness, and the relationship between the two. ‘Drifting’, a song about how serendipity can occur in the everyday, had the audience singing along, a song that combines electronic effects with rich, layered, and choral-inspired backing vocals. ‘Slow down’ (which features Jorja Smith on the album version) was another irresistibly catchy song, keeping listeners on edge with its lyrics and themes, while its rhythmic, repetitive chorus gives it the feel of a chant or even a song of praise.

SW1 - MaverickSabre copy

Maverick tackles difficult themes in his music. ‘Her Grace’ tackles the depression and potential suicide of a young girl sensitively. He addresses dark ideas through upbeat and rhythmic music, making the song seem a statement on pain or a way of coping with grief and complicated emotion. His rap influence is clear in the complex lyrics and rhyming chops, and the rhythmic relation of sadness and frustration.

Despite the overarching talent and quality of the performance as a whole, I would argue that ‘Into Nirvana’ was the clear highlight of the set, as it is of the album, a fusion with reggae-reminiscent use of guitar and off beats balancing out the depth of the lyrics. Maverick’s encore was a generous, three track bonus for the expectant audience, featuring an acoustic rendition of his well-known ‘I Need’, and an extended play of the new album’s closing track ‘Glory’, which was clearly inspired by his native Ireland’s folk tradition.

The artist, whose sound has matured tremendously in recent years, strikes me as someone who is in full control of their work and career. His new album touches on politics, mental health and relationships, and moves between rap, folk, pop soul and funk while bringing something entirely original to the genres. A name to watch, with a brand-new album I couldn’t recommend more highly, Maverick Sabre is a true delight for the ears, who Exeter’s most treasured venue couldn’t have been happier to host last weekend.

Katie Rivers


Images Source: Chuff Media

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