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Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band, Union Chapel | reviews, news & interviews

Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band, Union Chapel

Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band, Union Chapel

The sound of liberal Hollywood works better onstage than on disc

Tim Robbins, movie star turned bandleader: 'No seriously, I could have been the new Bob Dylan'

Actors and musicians are always trying to swap places, often with hilarious consequences (as long as you didn't pay for a ticket). Madonna in Body of Evidence? Keanu Reeves in his inexcusable band Dogstar? I think not. But Tim Robbins is a thoughtful, conscientious kinda guy, and he can even claim a bit of a folk-singing heritage via his father, Gilbert. And he put together the impressive soundtrack for his movie Dead Man Walking.

And he played a right-wing folk singer in the political satire Bob Roberts.

Nevertheless, there's no point denying that his new album, Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band, feels disappointingly flat and monotonous. Robbins hasn't helped himself by sequencing the tracks in a thoroughly perverse order, kicking the disc off with a batch of slow, broody pieces so that by the time it does finally start to pick up speed you're already out the door and halfway to the bus stop.

Happily, Robbins rectified many of these failings when he brought his band onstage in the heart of picturesque Islington, though the hard wooden benches and dismal aura of the Union Chapel make it an uphill struggle for any act that plays here. Drawing from the album material plus a batch of generally well-chosen cover versions, Robbins mixed up the more introspective pieces with outbreaks of rockabilly or campfire hoedowns, and kept moroseness at bay with friendly between-songs chat.

It's a little late in the day for songwriting greatness to descend upon Tim, but the best of his own songs are capable of stirring up a kind of dustbowl melancholia. "Dreams" generated a quietly hypnotic pull via its lilting, ebb-and-flow motion. "Book of Josie", cruelly abused as the album's opening track, worked much better part-way through the set, where its meandering lyricism felt more comfortably bedded into its surroundings. Most successful of the lot was "Toledo Girl", sombre on disc but positively malevolent here with its bleak minor chords and mordant clarinet from Kate St John (Robbins as Bob Roberts, pictured below)

Bob_Roberts_smallLess convincing were a negro spiritual, "O Mary Don't You Weep", and a song for Nelson Mandela whose gratuitous right-onness was matched only by its staggering vacuity, as though writing it was a condition of entry to liberal Hollywood's Smug Club. However, the chief uplifting ingredient of the performance was the revelation that Robbins can in fact sing rather well. In contrast to the drab murmurings he has inexplicably committed to disc, his vocals here were light and tuneful, improving his lyrics substantially merely by making them intelligible. The downside for Robbins was that this aural clarity served to highlight the superiority of the cover songs

Tom Waits's "All the World is Green" was deliciously droll and lugubrious, while Warren Zevon's "Don't Let us Get Sick" - gruesomely ironic, given Zevon's death from cancer - seemed even more touching than its author's own version. A clatter through Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" hinted that the Robbins band might really come into their own at around three in the morning, with some assistance from Mr Jim Beam. Judging by the finale, a hushed version of "I Should Fall From Grace" with the band adding impressive six-part harmonies, they'd then be able to sing themselves to sleep afterwards.

It's a little late in the day for songwriting greatness to descend upon Tim

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