"This is my first time playing in Arizona," Stephen Wilson Jr. announced halfway through his gloriously raucous set on the inaugural day of the Dreamy Draw Festival, making the most of his first opportunity in the Grand Canyon State to unleash his sonic boom in the desert.
Where Wilson Jr.'s debut album, 2023's Søn of Dad, was a hugely cinematic narrative experience that explored a variety of audible textures, his live performance is much more of a raw, dynamic proposition, heavily driven by the animated delivery of Wilson Jr. himself.
If this is your first experience of the singer-songwriter, then each introduction that Wilson Jr. makes will feel like the peeling apart of the personality of a deeply intriguing individual; "Stephen spelt with a ph, Wilson like the volley ball..."
Opening with the voracious 'Calico Creek', the group are entrancing - it sounds raucous yet atmospheric, much like the dream-like nature of the narrative it possesses. A real swirling soundscape that could brew up and unsettle the nastiest of sandstorms, it's obvious those on stage are in a delightfully untameable mood.
Such imagery is only made more vivid as visions of the rocky mountains stretch out behind Wilson and the band as they descend into the muscular 'Billy', the menacing steel acting as a glorified lead guitar here as it's stretched and distorted into an eerie wild west nightmare.
"This is a song for all my hardworking American humans out there," Stephen slyly suggests before slamming his pedalboard into oblivion to introduce the anxiety swilling stomp of 'Cuckoo'. Wilson in particular is in a devilish and riotous mood, bounding across the stage as he lets rip on another knotty and uncompromising riff on his battered and well-worn acoustic.
'All The Wars From Now On' is perhaps one of Wilson Jr.'s most country moments, which was already a disorientating concept when you also consider it's one of his most bittersweet and outwardly outspoken notions too. Thankfully, the wistful finality of the lyricism is not lost in the weight and dynamism of the live performance of the song, Wilson hovering over the mic as he calmly notions: "And all that's left is some emptiness / And a shaky handwritten letter / And it's been that way forever".
With each performance, Stephen Wilson Jr. becomes more buoyant. While both his solo and duo performances are a delightfully intimate exploration of his work as a lyricist, his full band sets are cataclysmic; a glorious mind-fuck that attempts to sweat out every semblance of noise and intensity within.
It's undeniable, he's a must watch.
For more on Dreamy Draw 2023, see below: