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Micah P. Hinson is perhaps halfway through his set at Nottingham's Bodega. There's another long pause in proceedings as he shuffles and staggers around the stage, fine-tuning a battered acoustic guitar that he's already tuned half a dozen times in this gig. "Nowhere when you walked in was there a sign that said Micah P. Hinson will be professional", banters Hinson in his Deep South slur. Some audience members laugh nervously. I suspect most are saying 'Amen brother' quietly in their heads.
This set had started so promisingly as well. Nobody is bothered that when Micah initially takes to the stage, he soundchecks again to get the bass levels in his guitar and voice just right. He doesn't launch into set opener, 'A Million Light Years' for a few minutes yet we're sure this is just part of his belligerent awkwardness. And when his voice does crackle into life over the top of a sliding, waltzing guitar riff full of echo, we're pretty much moved to tears by the simple poetry of this love song. "Some lonely day, I'll write to you and say, it never was hard to love the girl that stole my heart away", sings Hinson into a radio mic, from that space he occupies somewhere between Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash. If Hinson maintains such intense greatness throughout this set then he's heading straight into my top five of all time gigs. But, sadly, he doesn't.
This descent into shambles takes a fair while to fully realise though. It's complicated further because we want to cut him more slack than we might for somebody less talented. We know his history. The serious car crash in Spain that nearly killed him and temporarily left him without the use of his arms is clearly still taking its toll. Earlier health problems are probably compounding this incapacity. His new studio album, 'Micah P. Hinson And The Nothing', is crammed with melancholic beauty but such greatness often goes missing within this live setting. He crosses songs out of his notebook to remind himself what he's played; he eats an apple and swigs milk from a plastic bottle as he ponders what to play next. Six songs in and one of my favourite recorded tracks, ‘The Life, The Living, Death and Dying of a Certain and Peculiar L.J. Nichols', a song about his Grandpa, gets an airing. It's not as strong live. This show needs more variety.
Hinson is joined by his wife, Ashley, for parts of this set. He takes to a keyboard whilst she takes to a drum kit. He boasts about how he's doing better than his brother and how Ashley is great in bed. Her sack skills must be better developed than her drumming skills. It's a simple rhythm that she needs to keep during the haunt of 'I'm Not Moving' but she bangs her snare so out of time that we wonder if this is a deliberate artfulness. I conclude that it's not. Yet, it is undoubtedly sweet to watch two people dote on each other on stage. When Ashley tenderly adjusts Hinson's glasses that have slipped from the bridge of his nose, even the hardest heart must turn to mush. Micah and Ashley look longingly into each other's eyes as they huddle around the radio mic to sing a volume one version of 'Love Wait For Me' that was deemed too commercially unviable for his latest record. Nobody wants to burst their bubble despite the obvious, increasing, desperate tunelessness of Micah's voice.
Perhaps Micah should have employed this tours support band, Buriers, as his house band. Their early stage start time has tricked many but their audience swells as the set develops. "We're basically a pretentious band from London", jests Richard P. Honey, the frontman at the close of their opening number. Over the top of some acoustic guitar pickings and supported by some classical cello, vocal and drum arrangements, Honey enounces a word rich poetry that demands further, future investigation. Comparisons with Leonard Cohen are easy to draw even though Honey's voice comes from a different timbre. He tears at his T shirt in moments of intensity as he spews forth his poetry. Words come so thick and fast that my brain cannot keep up with their meaning. "It's like a baroque hip hop", whispers my gig going companion. I tell him I'm stealing that phrase for my review.
Micah's set draws to a close and a strange thing occurs. Bemused into silent observation, unsure of what to do, there is no whooping or hollering for an encore here from the audience. Instead, some people take the opportunity to leave. Others wait around, oddly stunned by the captivating car crash that they've seen. Micah returns to the stage and genuinely thanks those that have taken the time to come out and see him. The beautiful tune, 'Take Off That Dress For Me' gets played as one part of the three song encore. But, as with so much of this set, the experience of listening to this on record might prove more fruitful than listening to it live.