Mary Lee's Corvette @ The One Eleven Club, Sheffield (13/02/04)

Support: Brian Houston

I caught this, the last gig of Mary Lee's Corvette's UK tour, having already seen them a few days earlier in Nottingham. The band and support were the same. The venue, sadly, was not.

This was my first time at Sheffield's new One Eleven club which had been open for about a month I think. The venue was poor and I simply cannot recommend this to someone who, like myself, paid to attend and witness a quality act. Instead you are crammed into a long thin dining room with little space (the website blatantly stated that it could hold 100 people - I'm sorry but this is nothing but a lie!) and where the so-called audience were feeding their mouths and not their ears. During the gig, ignorant people continued to talk through the performances. How rude!!

So, basically the one eleven club has attempted to blend food and music and failed. The venue is not big enough to do both. Instead it has managed to irritate those who'd paid to dine (people crowding around their dinner tables with the added inconvenience of live noise) and those who'd paid to listen (people clattering knives and forks, chatting and occupying valuable floor-space).

Anyway, with that out of the way, it's onto the music itself...

Brian Houston was present providing the support. I was under the impression that there would be no support act on this occassion so I was surprised and happy to see Brian emerge at about 9.30 having thoroughly enjoyed his set at Nottingham on the 4th.

Brian was playing his own tracks again and played for about 30 minutes I think. I felt he was slightly less expressive than his previous performance but I put that down to the unsuitable venue. There was very little space on stage and we (the crowd) were pushed right up to the edge of it due to the farcical seating arrangements. After his set, Brian thanked the audience and apologised if he'd given anyone indigeston. Maybe it was just me, but I took this as a subtle criticism of those too hungry to lend their ears.

The staff tried to convince people to move to the back of the room (behind the noisy eaters) several times but we opposed their suggestions. No way! We'd paid to get in to see a show and we weren't moving. They even offered to give us our money back and let us leave but I'm sorry - we just weren't going to be bulldozered. In the end we compromised by sitting on the edge of the stage which wasn't ideal but at least it meant we had the best view in the house!

At the end of his set, Brian did his "Caravan routine" on his song about putting down your childish things which (forgive my ignorance) I don't know the title of, but has become increasingly difficult to get out of my head. He came back on for an encore. I'm not sure I've ever seen a support act do an encore? He asked for requests so I shouted out 'Caravan' and he declined, jokingly muttering something about having been playing Van Morrison for half of his life.

Mary Lee's Corvette put on another good show although they seemed to be experiencing a fair amount of bad luck. There were brief early tuning problems with Rod advising Mary Lee on which strings were too flat orsharp. Later, one of Mary Lee's guitar strings snapped during Give it to the Needy. They kept on playing whilst Brian jumped up onto the stage and readied his guitar for Mary Lee to use instead. The song was completed with minimal disruption. Unfortunately though, several severe bouts of feedback attacked the band and the crowd and I heard (Oh yes, I was very close!!) Rod say "we gotta can this guitar". So they did.

Just as the chaos was taking over, Mary and Rod decided to play a song they'd not done before by Aimee Mann. Talk about guts! I can't remember the title and am not familiar with many of Amie's songs. Suffice is to say, they recovered well albeit a bit risky.

They had opened with Tangled up in Blue. It was brilliant! What a lovely surprise. It was possibly the best song of the evening for me. And what bravery! Imagine choosing to start with such a wordy number with just Mary on vocals and tambourine and Rod on guitar. Mary Lee mimicked Dylan's phrasing almost syllable for syllable. After all, only fools choose to re-invent the wheel.

Mary did the "hand mitten as allegedly used by people from Michigan to describe where they live within the state" routine before launching into Portland, Michigan which is amusing (and sweet).

I had to leave to get my train just at the end of the Redemption Day which is a shame cos I missed the last song and the encore.

Mary had announced that they had 700 Miles CD's for sale but that they had run out of Blood on the Tracks CD's. I was gutted. I was looking forward to buying a copy and asking Mary to sign it 'our conversation was short and sweet'. Nevermind. I guess I could always try again next time they come around (and let's hope there is a next time, and that it's not too long).

Set List: (again, I have generated this list simply from memory and I left just as the last song was being introduced but have been reliably informed since that they played "All the Rage" as an encore)

  • Tangled up in blue
  • More Stupider
  • Out from Under it
  • Portland, Michigan
  • 700 Miles
  • The Nobody Song
  • You're gonna make me lonesome when you go
  • Give it to the needy
  • Redemption Song
  • Encore: All the rage

Mary Lee's Corvette @ The Maze Tavern, Nottingham (04/02/04)

This was my first time seeing Mary Lee's Corvette and also my debut at the Maze Tavern on Mansfield Road, Nottingham. From the back this venue looked tiny and, well, to be honest we thought we'd got the wrong place, or the wrong night. However, we walked around to the front and it was a nice little pub with an amazing rear function room (complete with stage, bar, ample seating!)

Brian Houston played a solid support set. A guy called Jason Slain was also on the bill but he either didn't show up or Brian played for too long? Either way, we didn't see him. To be honest though, I can't imagine anyone topping Brian's spot. I'm normally not too excited about support acts, however this guy was brilliant. Cocky, confident, talented and highly amusing. He was playing on his own (vocals, guitar and harmonica) but joked about having been in a band previously back in Belfast and that one by one all his fellow band members were poached from him until he was a solo performer. Was this true? Who knows? It was a entertaining story nonetheless.

Brian Houston could have just as easily been stand-up comedian for my money, such was his charisma. I'd been thinking of Van Morrison influences whilst watching him and on his final song he stole a melody from Van the Man's "Caravan", complete with timed air-kicking. A nice touch. I wonder whether anyone else other than me appreciated this?

Another amusing incident during Brian's set was him starting a song and playing some chord wrong and then stopping, apologising and re-starting, claiming that the mixing guy was recording the peformance and that there was nothing worse than getting home and listening to your efforts and hearing a bum note at the beginning of a number.

Brian finished about 10pm and Mary Lee's Corvette came pretty much straight on. I'd familiarised myself with their latest album, 700 miles, promoting which, as Mary Lee herself soon confessed, was the reason behind this tour. I'd also heard a few tracks from their notorious cover album of Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. Somehow I'd expected a full band complete with drums and all. As it happens, Mary Lee's Corvette were just two. Mary Lee Kortes on vocals, acoustic guitar and occassional harmonica (she made some joke about female harmonica players and their need to check their lipstick regularly, whilst re-applying lipstick herself) and a guy called Rod on electric guitar (also providing harmony vocals). Due to the venue stage/size, it was probably for the best that my predictions were wrong.

Wow, what a great sonud they made! Mary talked quite a bit inbetween songs which I always like. She seemed very relaxed. They played two Dylan songs ("You're gonna make me lonesome when you go" and "Simple Twist of Fate" with Brian coming back on to help out for this number as an encore) and the rest were from their new album.

Rod, Mary told us, had accidentally acquired the nickname "Broderick Rod" whilst on tour in Spain previously due to an unfortunate language barrier incident.

Mary Lee said that "700 miles" was a song inspired by her late (great?) grandmother who kept a diary throughout her life and would log everything she did no matter how inconsequential. Mary Lee discovered her diaries post-humously and one entry described how she came to stay with Mary Lee one time and recorded that it was 700 miles to Mary Lee's doorstep from hers.

"All the Rage" is one of my favourites tracks. This was also a stand song for the night for me. ML confessed that this song was often thought to be an anti-war song. She seemed generally puzzled by this.

The crowd of about 50 people (made up mostly 50+ year old seemingly - I was possibly the youngest there) were attentive (at one point Mary Lee joked that this was infact scaring her a little bit). We (the crowd) weren't very good at clapping along I felt and any participation was modest in replying to her inbetween song musings.

Mary Lee's Corvette played what felt like a relatively short set. Maybe it was just me. Maybe I just didn't want it to end so soon. After their last song I felt impulsed to shout "more!" but somehow it didn't seem appropriate behaviour in such a civilised and polite club. Thankfully, they came back on for an encore song a couple of minutes later obviously confused by our lack of hunger for more? Mary Lee said upon re-entering the stage something like "normally when people stop clapping [back home], we just just leave". They played Simple Twist of Fate after summoning Brian back over to help them out. I think Mary Lee's Corvette were suitably impressed with the Irish backup, and so they should be!

Mary Lee hung around to talk to people, sign autographs and sell CD's/t-shirts after the show. I congratulated her on a great gig. She was very friendly and surprisingly tall!

All in all, it was a fantastic evening. I'm glad I made the effort to go and I'm glad I persuaded my Dad and his friends to join me. It seemed strange that this band had some all the way from New York City to end up playing a cosy gig to us 50 in a pub in Nottingham. I'm not complaining. On the contrary, it felt very special!

Set List: (I think I got all the songs, although the order may have been slightly different)

Out from under it
700 Miles
You're gonna make me lonesome when you go
Status with Gladys
The Nobody Song
All the Rage
Give it to the Needy
Like Water
Portland, Michigan
Encore: Simple Twist of Fate