Foy Vance At The Hotel Cafe

Los Angeles – He looks like he might have a heart attack onstage. Pink face, pink neck, chords in his throat straining. In the words of one manager, he sings as if it were the last time he would ever perform. This could not be more accurate.

It was a full show experience that Foy Vance put on at the Hotel Café, comedy, stories, music. Moving back and forth between guitars and piano, drinking an IPA, and engaging the audience (“brothers and sisters”) with tales of his debauchery and dealing with “cocks”—he has a very Tom Waits aesthetic, if Tom Waits was silly and Irish and put out country music.

The show started with a bang—or a loud wail, as it could be described. A long, ethereal, gyrating guitar sound that felt like an extended cattle call.  (The sound in general on Monday was a problem; too loud for the small venue, it had a bite to it at times painful.) His final song—an encore performance—he gave from the middle of the crowd. Standing on a chair, his backup band (Conor McCreanor and Peter McCauley) at his side, sans instruments, Foy sang his song, “Guiding Light,” encouraging the audience, who made a circle around him, to sing their “wee hearts out.” He also encouraged harmonic “oohs,” which the audience provided, those that weren’t singing the chorus.

Upon his final exit out the back of the venue, the audience trailed after him a final chorus and “oohs” before erupting in cheers. It was an almost surreal moment.

Foy is a fantastic performer and brilliant musician.  He is passionate and very giving to the audience. He effortlessly connected with them, giving away bits of his personality—which is silly and wild-eyed and jokester-y—and sharing stories of living in London, his father the preacher, and an incident that involved a sombrero, flippers and waking up in his neighbor’s car covered in glass. He prompted his “brothers and sisters” to bring him a new IPA, which they did, and at one point played his guitar with a violin bow.

The sound—which granted, was a bit of a headache—by the middle of the show, you had forgotten. For all the joke and play between songs, his music is quite different. It’s serious and heartfelt and slow. Hopeful, if somewhat sad, exalted ballads, and his voice is pained and raw and beautiful. The contrast is really sort of perfect. His third to last song, from the piano, was a new song, not on the album, and before playing he asked the audience not to record it.

“Watchin’ shows on a computer, or a phone device, that’s not what I’m about… So if you see someone recording, can you just say to him, can you not be a cock, could you do that for me?”

No one did record, and the song was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Following it was a number you could “sing along to,” a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You” on the piano. If you weren’t sold before this point, you definitely were after.

His piano numbers were among his best. There is something about watching him from the piano, hearing the instrument creak beneath him. It had an incredible, present, old-world feel to it. And with the bright red, velvety curtains hanging behind him, it felt very lounge-y.

Hotel Café is a venue known for launching the careers of singer-songwriters and this was an auspicious performance.

“I cannot have expected more than seven people to show up here tonight,” Vance said at the start of the show. “So the fact that you sold the place out makes me feel really good. I appreciate that, it may not look like it, but I do.”

Vance was born in Bangor, Northern Ireland but spent the first five years of his childhood in the American south, touring black churches with his preacher father. It was there he first became exposed to gospel, blues, soul and jazz. He’s been called “the most important solo musician to emerge from Northern Ireland since Van Morrison,” by The Belfast Telegraph, and has stunned audience and musicians alike with his raw voice and storytelling ability. Bonnie Raitt invited him to join her on her 2006 European/UK tour and he has played supporting gigs with KT Tunstall, Pete Townshend, Joss Stone and Taj Mahal to name a few.

His album, “Joy of Nothing”, was released in August.


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