Let's get this straight from the outset. Seasick Steve is a character, nothing more than that. Sure, he's been marketed very well over the last couple of years – the stories about him hopping freight trains and being a loveable bum sound fantastic and he dresses credibly badly. But lets not delude ourselves here – the guy hasn't been plucked from obscurity by a saintly record company. He's been around for years, he worked as a knob-twiddler on a couple of Modest Mouse records. He apparently lives in Norfolk.
That's part of the reason why I found tonight so depressing particularly when I saw the number of people soaking it all up at the sold-out Apollo. It's even more distressing when you put it in context; the same venue saw the death of Ziggy Stardust the pre-eminent example of the self-conscious stage persona. But whilst Bowie's creation was a clever, knowing creation, a satire on the star system as much as a product of it, Seasick Steve comes across tonight as a cynical marketing product, nothing more. The persona's served him well over the last couple of years. Steve's been nominated in the best international solo male category for this year's Brit awards, and he's sold out venues around the country during this, his highest profile tour to date.
Tonight, Seasick 'hobo, tramp, bum' Steve takes to the stage and plonks himself in the middle of a bleeding stage set. It's designed to look like a good, old porch from the deep south. Best of all, pride of place above his head sits a fully-illuminated Budweiser sign (is this supposed to make him seen credible, or is there some kind of sponsorship involved here? Its hard to tell). Even the on-stage stories and gags seemed painfully rehearsed. It all comes across as an act, manufactured, sanitised and a million miles from the 'reality' he's selling us onstage.
In all, the Seasick Steve live show was a very shallow experience and musically one-dimensional. It's almost as is he's playing the blues for people who have never heard the blues before (tip: check out the music of Muddy Waters). It all left me feeling a bit empty. I left early.