Saturday night (May 20) marked the opening of the inaugural Highways Festival at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Enforcing a welcome break in the male-heavy line-up, there was a crackle of anticipation in the air when Morgan Wade stepped up to play.
The sole woman performing during the evening section of the festival, Wade appeared totally unperturbed. Framing her show as if it was taking place in an intimate and cosy front room, Wade had five lamps - each with a soft shade - perched at different heights around the stage.
As the tension built pre-show, Wade and her trusted sideman, Clint Wells, strolled on; each with an acoustic guitar and matching ripped-at-the-knee jeans. “I would say this is a normal Saturday for me,” quipped Wade. “But it’s not, it’s beautiful!”
From there, Wade and Wells provided a no-nonsense, solid gold 45-minute set. Bouncing from ‘Run’ straight into ‘Don’t Cry’, Wells’ lovely harmonies underpinned Wade’s unique, gruff vocals. She mentioned that she’d been tipped off about UK audiences; “they listen like a sober crowd and react like a drunk crowd”. The Albert Hall fans rightly took this as the biggest compliment, as the duo launched into the clever wordplay of ‘Matches and Metaphors’.
Hearing the title track off Wade’s upcoming album Psychopath was a real treat for those already eagerly anticipating the summer record. Plunging into further darkness with ‘The Night’, Wade deals with demons, new pills, the pistol and the bottle, all while not being able to talk about your mental health down in the south.
Pulling us back into the room, Wade and Wells engaged in some ongoing banter about their tour, first getting emotional over the Beatles, the Cavern Club and Liverpool, all before getting some football facts wrong in Glasgow and only managing to pull the booing crowd back on their side by waxing lyrical about Scottish legends, the Proclaimers. Phew.
There was no danger of them alienating the London massive though, as on the home straight Wade picked out some absolute bangers. ‘Take Me Away’ was swiftly followed by ‘Mend’, as Wells moved back his chair, switched to electric guitar and threw some serious shapes during wild solos at the front of the stage.
Wade’s vocals, meanwhile, seemed reminiscent of the legendary Lone Justice leader Maria McKee, as she warmed to her task. On the slowed-down ‘Crossing State Lines’, her voice felt just as passionate – almost reaching a yelp at points during her rasping performance.
Saving the best ‘til last, ‘I Thought I Walked on Water’ was a total treat, a genuine highlight reminiscent of a Springsteen hometown song. The stone-cold biggest hit of all, ‘Wilder Days’ was the perfect closer.
The crowd immediately understood the assignment and waved aloft the flashlights on their phones, couples swayed and whooped, and best of all, as Wade suddenly cut her own vocals, the entire audience sang the chorus, word perfect.
It was a fabulous ending to a memorable set that will have galvanised Morgan Wade’s existing fans and gained hundreds more on the spot.
Morgan Wade - Setlist
Take from her performance at the Highways Festival, Royal Albert Hall, London, England - Saturday, May 20th 2023:
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