Updated: Monday, 14th October 2019 @ 11:10am

Levi Weaver @ The Black Lion – January 25

Levi Weaver @ The Black Lion – January 25

By Stephen Sumner

MM's Stephen Sumner ventured into Salford's The Black Lion to witness Texas rocker Levi Weaver.

Levi Weaver is a musician’s musician. An artist so jaded with the pursuit of fame that he decided to accept success. Once he realised the two were not inextricably linked, his outlook changed. After years of touring and not achieving the commercial breakthrough he had expected, Levi was on the brink of giving up. In fact, he quit for a while. But as such an honest songwriter, it wasn’t quite so easy to cut himself off. He returned to music with a new approach. He stopped hiring venues where he couldn’t promise to turn a profit, and instead granted the responsibility to his fans – people’s front rooms, their churches, their basements – if they built it, he would come.

Leapfrogging from place to place, he wound up in the Black Lion in Salford. A proponent of local artistic talent, the pub advertises itself as a cinema cafe bar and theatre arts space. The gig, the venue's first since reopening in October, was organised by Weaver fan James Wilkes, who by day works at a chemical company. For his troubles, Levi was treated to a showing of a local theatre company’s latest play, Where Have All the Good Men Gone, before his set.

He was supported by Fugitive Empire, a Manchester solo artist whose songs were dedicated to, possibly even inspired by, TV shows such as Bones and Neighbours. He said he had written more songs than he had performed at gigs in the last couple of years, and he made vocal his awe of the international headline act.

When Levi Weaver’s turn came, he eagerly shot to the stage. The Americana vibe came across from the outset, but then came broader influences, with hints of Flamenco guitar, a more electronic sound in a composition on his iPhone, grunge even. His technophilia was emphasised in his cover of Radiohead’s Idiotheque, as he adjusted pedals and turned dials with a well-practised toe. Covering a track by such an influential band will always be risky. This version made the wise choice of not trying to replicate the original note for note. There are similarities – the looped stomping and tapping, the violin bow over the guitar strings – indeed, it sounds more like them than him at times, but it was an effective effort. And of course watching it being built from scratch on stage was impressive.

His is a voice that cannot deny its Tennessee roots, despite the singer’s admitted attempts to lose any trace of a hillbilly drawl. His Deep South heritage boasts a long line of singer-songwriters with a story to tell – Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin – and he follows in good form. The encore, You Are Home, is his best example of this. This tale of life on the road put across the difficulties of his position, how his best attempts to make it in the music business left him made lose focus on what really matters to him. This song is Weaver coming to terms with the various aspects of his life. Expressing his feelings seems to have changed his practices, as he now brings his wife, Heather, along with him.

Levi Weaver is appreciated by a dedicated few. He has redefined what success means for him, so maybe in some logical/karmic/ironic way, fame should follow.