Tonight’s gig is a launch party for Cian Nugent & the Cosmos’ new album, Born with the Caul, although Nugent’s set kicks off with the bright whirlwind of last August’s single ‘Hire Purchase’, in place of album opener ‘Grass Above My Head’. Nugent then swaps his Fender Strat for a Guild acoustic, and goes into the raga-like ‘Double Horse’, the record’s second track. Back on the electric, the show culminates in the epic ‘The Houses of Parliament’, a composition of over 23 minutes in length, which takes up he entire second side of Born, and showcases the richness of the guitar maestro’s palate and the variety of his influences.
In this endeavour it veers from Fairport Convention-style folk rock to garage; 13th Floor Elevators’ psychedelia to Thin Lizzy; straight ahead boogie to pulsing, rave-up finale. There’s a nice bit of elongated distortion somewhere in the middle, and Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh’s strummed viola near the end is reassuringly reminiscent of some of John Cale’s work with the Velvet Underground.
No one would dispute that Cian Nugent is a virtuoso guitarist. He probably spent his unwasted youth ensconced in his bedroom with only his acoustic guitar and the collected works of John Fahey for company. Since he moved away from the Takoma purity of his early recordings, an orbit of lineage with obvious debts to Fahey, and before him, Davey Graham/Bert Jansch/Sandy Bull, going electric has made him more eclectic. Tom Verlaine of Television’s clean but aggressive modal playing is as much an obvious reference point as Richard Thompson’s more precise stylings, but there’s a bit of Yes’ Steve Howe’s complex modals in there too, along with a healthy dose of Roger McGuinn and Jerry Garcia. Of contemporary practitioners, his explorations bear comparison with the guitar albums of Jim O’Rourke, Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance, and Chris Forsyth. Crucially, his dexterity never feels like just showing off, and this is very much a band project.
Support is ably provided by Katie Kim, who has brought her two Boss Loop Station pedals and her beautiful, ethereal voice. Pitched halfway between predecessors like Kate Bush and Enya, but with a little of the indie quirkiness of CocoRosie and bluesy drone of Mazzy Star thrown in, this is the second time your correspondent has caught Ms Kim in a supporting role (she did the honours for Low back in August), and she really is something special. Unlikely as it may seem, she again plays solo when opening for guitar heroes Television next Thursday at Vicar Street. Ticketholders would be well-advised to get there early.