As the audience liked to remind us. Dave Stewart is “One of Ours”. Having never played Sunderland since he was a fresh faced 17-year-old, Stewart decided to play Ringmaster to a fantastic show celebrating his musical career and his 65th birthday, at the Sunderland Empire.
Known as the “Ringmaster” for his diversely populated stages, Dave handpicked the support including 3 superb young bands. Picnic were a lively female fronted 8-piece with brass section. Their complex rhythms, syncopated structures brought to mind a combination of Big Country with a hint of math rock. I can see these getting snapped up for festivals.
Lilliput brought the power pop with close harmony vocals and insightful lyrics. They have a big sound bolstered by 3 guitars and a piano. With the 90s style fashion making a comeback, why not magical guitar pop in the vein of Jellyfish, David Devant and His Spirit Wife, and our own more recent local power pop merchant Toxic Melons? We approve!
Another quick changeover, for which the technical team should be applauded, and Social Room took to the stage. A genuinely talented local band with strong melody and solid vocals the band add sweeping synths for superb catchy tunes. Social Room evidently already have a good following already judging from the audience response. The Sunderland-inspired song SR7 brought to mind Robbie Williams (in a good way) and The Who, a cracking tune indeed. The band exhibit powerful song writing mirroring that of the superb This Ground Moves from Newcastle. By rights. This band should be all over the charts. Meanwhile catch them if you can in gigs around the northeast.
Before Dave Stewart took to the stage we are treated to a lovely rendition of City By The Sea by Lake Poets’ Martin Longstaff. Short story cut even shorter: Martin was picked up by Dave Stewart and had his 2014 album Honest Hearts recorded in the Nashville Blackbird Studios. Dave Stewart clearly believes in nurturing young talent.
After a tightly packed support lineup, Dave Stewart emerged with a full Nashville band, backing singers (who stepped ably into Annie’s shoes at several points) and a lot of rhinestones. Focussing first on his blues rock repertoire (though Eurythmics songs are largely blues based if you listen), we were treated to a massive version of Magic In The Blues: a story of a decade in reverse ending with meeting Annie Lennox.
The night was a rare opportunity to here Eurythmic songs played live with more live instruments and vocals than I ever have before. Here Comes The Rain Again with blues guitar and Jealousy with added steel guitar were a real treat. Dave has written under pseudonym for other stars. Old Habits Die Hard had the vocal talents of Matty from Social Room in place of Mick Jagger,and Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell stepped in for Tom Petty in a great vocal and guitar performance for Don’t Come Around Here No More. Another fantastic surprise was when a grand piano was wheeled out and Diane Birch launched into a fantastic duet with Dave and the band before bringing a whole new sound to There Must Be An Angel Playing With My Heart. It simmered and boiled over into a full band epic performance.
Fresh from the Great North Run, Broadway and West End star Ryan Molloy led a blistering version of Thorn In My Side, and got the audience singing along.
Dave Stewart peppered the evening with stories of his days growing up in Sunderland, lamented the passing of industry and hailed the cultural future of the city. Martin Longstaff returned to the stage along with the Easington Colliery Band for a truly beautiful rendition of When The Day Goes Down.
After a break and costume change we had Would I Lie to You, a groovy funky big band version of the original. And for an amazing encore everyone including the brass band returned to the stage for Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This). The stage could not have taken much more talent! The audience rose to their feet and the classic pop tune took on a life of its own with the audience and all the musicians giving it their all. A truly amazing homecoming for Dave Stewart-don’t leave it so long next time marra!