Exeter, Devon UK • Jul 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Music Live Review: Nick Mulvey @ the Phoenix, Exeter

Live Review: Nick Mulvey @ the Phoenix, Exeter

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With his kaleidoscopic Wake Up Now album cover behind him on the stage, perhaps resembling an intricate guitar tablature or the inter-connectivity between himself and his audience, Mulvey experiments in combining two sets by dot-to-dotting from various

Mulvey experiments in combining two sets by dot-to-dotting from various albums

Taking to the stage as a lone singer-songwriter again during this tour, as he did so with his debut album, First Mind, Mulvey’s bare talent is ‘Making honey from my darkness (In Your Hands)’. This happens before he even plays, asking the audience ‘How are you?’ as the lighting warms alongside his down-to-earth personality, living up to his “paint the earth on me” command in his opener ‘We Are Never Apart’; this song unravels his devastation of a destructed environment used for profit in the Standing Rock anti-oil pipeline protests.

Likewise, the entire set is about searching deep into the roots of the earth, taking inspiration from Zen Buddhism to find peace and understanding. Yet, using lo-fi lyrics, Mulvey accepts not everything can be comprehended, blurring some concepts into sound images and patterns. ‘The Doing Is Done’ reiterates this as he lyrically explores themes of identity by questioning “how many makers in the one?”, and using images of lineage such as “a mother made by her son”. He leaves this question unanswered by embracing holism as something that is simply “done” in the “doing”.

Mulvey’s second album Wake Up Now makes literal of its title with a sense of awakening; yet this is still light, evoking joy, mimicking waking up from hibernation amidst a ‘Mountain to Move’; a slow transition from recorded album to live performance. This is a startling, anthem-like song, which is likely why he selected it as his climactic piece, leaving the audience to walk out with a similar energetic resonance.

Despite this, Mulvey still enraptures a sense of self-enlightenment throughout the entire set, as reflected in the concept of time being something to move in this song: a projection of the internal mind into a contained space. For instance, as ‘Myela’ interweaves refugee stories, splitting “another million desperate souls” into some personally infused tales; yet he lightens this with exotic, African inspired beats and guitar finger work, and with the heart-
warming vernacular “I am your neighbour, you are my neighbour”. These lyrics are particularly infused within the In Your Hands tour, as Mulvey himself and the audience’s presence alone are enough to fill even the non-major cities – including Exeter. Alongside these lines, Mulvey uses an echo effect to create the full call and response impact of a neighbourly answer to his statement. Split seconds after finishing ‘Myela’ there is a lingering silence from the audience, preceding an applause, taking them by surprise as they are left longing for more.

‘Myela’ interweaves refugee stories splitting “another million desperate souls” into some personally infused tales

Mulvey’s more contained, intimate ballads are still exposed within the space and community he creates. ‘Unconditional’ deconstructs the meaning to the word like a finger-picked chord, yet in a humble way, with its meaning to him as something “Uncontainable/Nowhere you can hide”. This line is perhaps also an allusion to his interaction with the audience, where the lights flash to those watching above from the balcony. For this particular song he tells us, beforehand, the story behind the chord
structure and working his way up the frets to find different progressions; this again reminds us of Mulvey’s use of shapes, in this case being horizontal ones across the fingerboard.

Following the prevalent theme of inter-connectivity, Mulvey explains his three connected pieces; “like a painter with one view”, he tells us as they all contain the same structure. One of which he plays is ‘Transform Your Game (We Remain)’ that took inspiration from watching the sun drip into the ocean at a beach in Mexico forming what he refers to as a “cosmic situation”. During the second half of the set, Mulvey converts to an electric guitar for the denser texture and building tension to ‘Juramidam’ and to mimic the inspiration of the storm, which he briefly discuses by telling us he strummed his guitar as a conversation with the thunder, behind ‘Imogen’. In ‘Juramidam’, Mulvey introduces new lyrics and feeds key phrases for the audience to carry on repeating them, then inverts them. This creates a hypnotic arousal as the chanting becomes like sight-reading, perhaps similar to how Mulvey himself answered storm Imogen with his guitar.

As through the lens of his own kaleidoscope, Mulvey’s gig is a complex mixture, awash with stormy muses, stripped-back songs, intimate inspirations; a true conservatory piece, Mulvey builds a close setting where he can be wholly open with his crowd. Hiding nothing, he is the lucid musician – at one with nature and, indeed, his neighbour.

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