Self-proclaimed drunk folk pioneer Beans On Toast brings his inimitably shambolic live act to Bristol’s Thekla with plenty of new material in tow. Throughout his annual winter tour, the Essex native has been supported ably by Sky Smeed and Tensheds.
Texan native Sky Smeed kicks things off, immediately invoking comparisons to the country music of Gram Parsons and Willie Nelson, yet the subject matter ensures his offering feels strikingly modern.
The growing crowd warmly receives the rousing piano and drums combination of Tensheds. At once seeming both a throwback and a pioneer, front man Matt Millerchip has carved out a genuinely authentic sound that deserves a bigger stage.
Unorthodox, slightly shabby but full of character, floating ship Thekla is perhaps the most appropriate venue possible for Beans On Toast. Predictably a sell-out, the unrelenting enthusiasm of the crowd are a mark of just how popular this troubadour has become over the past few years.
Beans On Toast's recently released 8th studio album A Spanner In The Works marks a significant departure from his previous back catalogue, with each song layered in loops, beats and synth. Perhaps mindful of the cult following he’s developed over the past decade, Beans - real name Jay McAlister - has decided against bringing this new style on his annual tour.
Instead, he reverts to the tried and tested guitar, harmonica and banjo set up.
Several new tracks feature throughout the set, but these previously synth-heavy sobge still suit the traditional, stripped-back style. Set opener "2016" is the most prominent of these, trawling through the events of a challenging year in that familiar, catchy style.
Longtime collaborator Bobby Banjo brings guitar and harmonica to several tracks, but McAlister mixes things up further by bringing his support acts back up on stage. Matt Millerchip of support act Tensheds contributes to several album tracks and reappears here to contribute jangly piano to "In The Pub", while Sky Smeed also joins in. This culminates in a rousing, four-man rendition of Leonard Cohen’s "Everybody Knows" in tribute of the late, great artist.
Themes of drugs politics and love pervade much of the material, but old favourites "Can’t Take Another Earthquake" and "Chicken Song" demonstrate McAlister's innate storytelling ability on any subject. The 36-year-old's impassioned, forthright protest anthems remain so relevant. And as brand new track "I think everybody should be terrified" shows, he simply does this better than anyone else.
Inevitably, the gig slowly disintegrates as McAlister breaks up songs with totally unrelated stories, or takes requests from the audience only to discover he can’t remember the lyrics.
In all, this is a cheerily haphazard offering from an artist who remains unmatched in his talent for combining three-chord-folk and wry social commentary.