Review: BC Camplight gives a masterclass in battered brilliance on stage in Birmingham
I mean, he’s a genius, and in a just world he’d be one of the most famous and lauded people alive. But maybe the one good thing about living in an unjust world is that at least we get to experience BC Camplight being a genius in a small room in Digbeth.
His actual name is Brian Christinzio but you can think of him as Brian Wilson, if Brian Wilson had moved to Manchester and developed an in-depth knowledge of British daytime TV (hearing a big American yell the phrase ‘Dickinson's Real Deal’ will never get old). Christinzio has a gift for timeless melody unrivalled by his peers (whomever they may be), a way with rich harmony, the imagination and skill to set it to arrangements that sparkle and grind and glide, and a lyrical sensibility that finds the precise points where the particular meets the universal and the tragic meets the comic and hits them again and again.
His success should have been inevitable. But it has proved all too evitable. An extraordinary number of mishaps have befallen him; he warns against reading his Wikipedia page because “you won’t sleep for weeks”. It is as if there is some grand cosmic saboteur at work. But after each setback he seems to emerge in better creative shape; he’s been doing this now for 18 years, and this is the best he has ever been.
Christinzio is top-notch vocalist. All the things are in his voice: grit, soul, beauty, depth, purity, every day of his 40-odd years on this planet. Christinzio is also a top-notch pianist, as playful, decorous, grand and heavy as the song demands (and the songs demand a lot). The brilliance is bruised and battered and is all the better for it. It is an affirmation of life in the face of some really quite outlandish adversity.
The show opened with The Last Rotation of Earth. It’s the title song from his latest album, his most successful yet (it spent one week in the top 40, at number 31), which landed him a slot on Later… with Jools Holland and has drawn the biggest audiences he’s ever had. The song encompasses a conversation with a bird, a sublime encounter in Tesco and a fight with fate, all among layer upon layers of hooks, demons and angels. His songs typically have more ideas than most whole albums, yet they never feel cluttered or contrived or overly clever. It’s just what he does.
There are times when it sounds a bit country (I’m in a Weird Place Now), or a bit AM rock (Cemetery Lifestyle). And then it sounds like it’s been zapped by aliens, or has fallen through a portal into a strange new dimension. It occasionally feels as though it is only just holding together; Christinzio cuts a figure in equal parts imposing and shambling. But here is craft and technique and attention to detail of the highest order, he and his band performing with crispness and precision. He dedicated I Want to Be in the Mafia to fellow sufferers of mental health problems; his performance, just him on the piano, was deeply affecting. I’m Alright in the World found a kind of bliss, all the more genuine for its attendant brokenness. The whole thing was also a lot of fun, and Christinzio is terrific company.
There can be a temptation to romanticise the struggling artist, to view their pains as worthwhile so the rest of us can enjoy the results. There is also a danger in thinking too much about what might have been, or what might still be, thus potentially overlooking what there already is. But it’s about time the universe cut Christinzio some slack. Frankly, it owes him.
Visit bccamplight.net/live for future tour dates