Sunday 12 March 2023

Lauren Ruth Ward / NXDIA - Manchester The Yard - 11th March 2023

Lauren Ruth Ward opened up her European tour on Saturday night at The Yard in Manchester. With a set split in two - the first half solo, the second accompanied by guitarist Lisa - she delighted a crowd that hung on every word of her deeply personal songs. Support came from an acoustic set by NXDIA.

This is the first time NXDIA has played acoustic she tells us as she introduces guitarist Jack. This would have come as a surprise had she not revealed this fact, so comfortable she seemed throughout her set of originals with a couple of covers slipped in the middle. The stripped-down acoustic format really allowed her vocals to take centre stage and shine through, the deep emotional connection she makes with her songs being laid bare for a mostly attentive crowd.

Their cover of Pink's Please Don't Leave Me is an impressive take on a song that's brave to cover, but it's the originals that really stand out. The set finishes with recent single What's It Like and also features previous singles Ouch! and Get Between It as well as unreleased songs Tricky Convos and I Don't Care. She takes time out between songs to explain what they're about and talk about her Egyptian heritage and how it has worked into her art. The crowd respond extremely favourably to her, even though most of them won't have heard her before. The acoustic format might be different to her recorded work, but it demonstrates the strength of her voice and the quality of the songs.

Lauren Ruth Ward lives every moment of each of her songs, whether it be the solo opening section which features a lot of unreleased material that she tells us she's working out what to do with. She asks that we don't film full songs so she can control her art. It's an important request, as is her need to stop songs twice to ask the people at the back to shut up. They're not fans, those down the front stand in reverential silence, mouthing along to the songs they know and soaking in the ones they don't, singing along out loud when Lauren asks. The ones at the back, venue guestlist we're told later, think their conversations and witty shoutouts - "play Wonderwall" might have been funny once but once only - but it's plain disrespect and this type of soul-bearing deserves more.

It doesn't spoil the evening though, irritating as it is. Over the course of an hour and a half, Lauren bears her soul through her music. At moments it looks like she's lost in her own world, at others she's sharing everything amongst us as she ventures into the safe space of her audience. She even engineers a marriage proposal in the audience mid-set (she said yes). She talks to individuals in the crowd as she tunes her guitar, calls out people she recognises from previous gigs like old friends. But when the music starts, either herself on guitar or Lisa adding a harder more abrasive edge with an electric guitar, she allows us an insight into her world.

Shows this intense can often be difficult experiences, but the warmth of the audience towards Lauren and the mutuality of the love between them dissipates that. There's a lot of young women in the audience to whom Lauren is an inspiring figure, either musically, as a human being unafraid to explore their emotions so openly, or both. Even coming from a different age and gender, the power in these songs are palpable in the room. 

Tracks like Mindseye and Messiah from her most recent EP release, Wise Gal and Valhalla from her last album, 2020's Vol II, which came out since her last visit her in late 2019, sit alongside older songs like Burden and Sideways which make up the encore. The intensity and standards never drop throughout, the connection with the audience never weakens and the love in the room sends us out into the cold and rainy Manchester night with the sort of warm glow that music should always give you. 

Lauren Ruth Ward's official site can be found here and she is on Facebook and Twitter.  Lauren plays Brighton Hope And Ruin on Tuesday March 14 before heading to Europe - full list here.

NXDIA is on Facebook and Twitter.


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