Gilbert O’Sullivan – World Café Live – Philadelphia, PA – July 10, 2019
Before this abbreviated two-night US tour – in which he played at New York’s City Winery and Philly’s World Café Live on two consecutive nights – the last time 70s Irish pop troubadour Gilbert O’Sullivan played in the United States, Jimmy Carter was the president. The Bicentennial was a huge deal. Charlie’s Angels was a phenomenon on TV. The Steel Curtain defense was still active. Rocky had only been in one movie.
Yes, O’Sullivan explained at his recent show that he had not played in New York since 1976, and he had never played in Philadelphia before. (Though a fan contacted us online swearing that he is sure he has a clipping about a 1973 show at the old Philadelphia Spectrum somewhere.)
In the 43 years since he last played the States, O’Sullivan has continued making music and he is a popular concert draw in Europe and Japan. What took him so long to come back to the States?
O’Sullivan explained that he normally travels with a 10-piece band and the logistics of a tour of the States made it difficult, if not impossible, to pull off. Between getting the whole band across the ocean and expenses, it was hard to set up and hope to make any kind of profit. Still, he has been toying with the idea for years.
With the surprise international success of last year’s self-titled album, which debuted in the top 20 of the UK album charts and had songs which lent themselves to an acoustic show, he decided to dip his toe in. Thus, he set up these two unplugged gigs with just himself and accompaniment by guitarist Bill Shanley (who also plays with Ray Davies). If these shows went well, he said, maybe he’d make it back in significantly less than four decades.
And it seems that things did indeed go very well. O’Sullivan seemed invigorated and thrilled to be back on this side of the pond, and pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastic the sold-out audience was to be there for this little bit of musical history.
It led to a two-and-a-half hour, 27-song set (with a brief intermission) which surveyed the length and breadth of his career – ranging from the expected early hits to fan favorites to deep tracks to new songs. (Though, surprisingly, he did not perform one of his six US charting hits, the 1975 top 25 pop hit “Ooh Baby,” which is, granted, the least remembered of his chart triumphs.)
Also, for such a song-heavy setlist, it is impressive that O’Sullivan did not fall back on feel-good cover versions of other people’s songs to engage the audience. This concert was going to be a referendum on O’Sullivan as a songwriter, and it is surprising how well so many of these songs have held up.
From the opening chords of the long-forgotten British single “January Git” which opened the show, to the loving recent tribute to old times and old music “Dansette Dreams and 45s,” the songs were sweetly old-fashioned and lovingly performed.
And O’Sullivan’s classics proved to be oddly timeless. “Alone Again (Naturally)” – arguably one of the most depressing songs ever – is still truly gorgeous and brought down the house. His sweet tribute to his niece “Clair” was nicely downbeat and nostalgic in this acoustic setting. “Out of the Question,” which is probably one of the least remembered of his big hits, proved to be arguably his best song. Then he closed things down with a spunky version of his classic “Get Down.”
All in all, it was a surprisingly strong showing. O’Sullivan seemed thrilled with his stateside reception. I definitely don’t think it will take another 43 years for him to come back.
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 11, 2019.
Photos by Jim Rinaldi © 2019