Rodney Branigan

Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Now resident in London, the Texan-born virtuoso guitar player Rodney Branigan brought something entirely different to the Wombwell Wheelhouse tonight, which included playing two syncopated guitars at the same time.  You have to see it to believe it.  With impressive musical dexterity, together with a good natured personality and maybe just a touch of complete madness, Rodney brought some of his jaw dropping guitar playing skills to an unsuspecting audience in Wombwell.  Opening with one of his party tricks, the seated musician held his first guitar in the standard position, albeit slightly to his right hand side, then propping a second guitar in an upright position between his legs, he played both instruments simultaneously, with his right hand almost violently attacking one guitar, whilst the fingers on his left hand ‘shredded’ the fret board of the second guitar.  You would normally expect this to come across as a right old racket, but it actually came over surprisingly well.  “The Ambidextrous Duet” also involves beating a tambourine with his foot and as if he didn’t have enough to do, there was also a fair deal of guitar tapping and beating, a practice only advisable to those who know what they’re doing, otherwise it could potentially become quite a costly exercise.  Rodney owns up to the fact that during his apprenticeship year he wrote off no less than six guitars!  For those of us new to Rodney Branigan, there was an initial fear after this opening performance, that these shannanigans would constitute the bulk of his set, but fortunately for both him (especially his hands) and the audience, not to mention his poor instruments, the pyrotechnics were kept to a minimum.  The only other time he put his guitar in any kind of danger was during his infamous ‘Flip Trick’, which he warned us earlier that he just might have to skip tonight due to the low ceiling in the Wheelhouse.  The trick incorporates balancing one guitar on top of the other whilst playing both simultaneously, then during the performance, the two guitars somehow swap places in mid flight.  Blink and you’ve missed it. Rodney however did feel suitably inspired to do the trick tonight, despite the low ceiling, which he pulled off superbly well to the amusement of all.  YouTube makes a big song and dance about these tricks, but what you don’t see so much out there is the tender side of this singer songwriter.  “She Bled”, written for the Domestic Abuse Hotline in Texas, is a beautifully sad song, which Rodney claims to be one of a very few sad songs he performs.  With a voice reminiscent of the young Jeff Buckley, Rodney has the capacity to captivate an audience in the traditional way as well as with the help of all the trickery and gadgetry.  The same can be said for the well chosen songs from the repertoires of others.  For the second time at the Wheelhouse recently, I was reminded of just how good Paul Simon’s songs are after years of trying to avoid them.  Madison Violet performed a great version of “Mrs Robinson” at the venue recently and tonight Rodney performed “The Boxer”, an over done song in early Seventies folk clubs but after a couple or three decades away, the re-vitalised song was most welcomed; I even joined in on the ‘lie-la-lies’.  Conversely, performing a Soundgarden song in the style of Johnny Cash would seem a little adventurous at first, but having said that, Johnny’s swansong was in fact a cover of a Nine Inch Nails song, so I guess this take on “Rusty Cage” is not as unusual as you might think.  Thom Yorke’s “Creep” has often been heard in clubs since we first became aware of the Radiohead song in 1992, but seldom have I heard it performed with such conviction.  “The Trilogy” is a medley of three songs comprising “Jamming With Mo”, “Heading Home” and the Beatles’ “Come Together”, which Rodney faithfully adapts for his own purposes.  Rodney not only borders on the quirky, but often strays into down right eccentric territory.  In a sort of commercial break mode, Rodney delivers a song that contains just the four words, sex, herpes, ouch and scratch, in that order, to a sort of familiar cocktail lounge melody, topped off with some scratching effects on the guitar; we are left in no doubt as to the singer’s bizarre sense of humour.  This humour is not confined to quirky songs and raunchy jokes, which peppered his set tonight, but also in the clever way he utilises his instruments, as previously described.  Towards the end of one song for instance, Rodney stretches out one leg, the one with the tambourine attached to his foot and performs a memorable ending to “Remember Me”, shaking the tambourine at an unfeasible rate, which rendered the silent audience frozen momentarily.  How did he do that?  “That’s what happens when you gain a hold of your epilepsy and embrace it; lock your leg and shake a tambourine” was his explanation.  Towards the end of the night, almost as an afterthought, Rodney performed a rather tasty version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Castles Made of Sand”, which reminded us of just how poetical Hendrix could be when he wasn’t burning his guitar.  There was a tangible and delighted buzz in the Wheelhouse tonight after Rodney’s performance, which was one of the best received at the venue.  It may have been the standard of musicianship, the teasingly naughty jokes, or maybe just the relief that the roof was still intact!