LOCAL hero Richard Dawson has played Newcastle - and in particular The Star and Shadow - more times than he can likely recall, yet even beforehand the air surrounding Saturday’s edition was a tad different.
The opening night of a full English tour, this latest appearance followed a phase in which the songwriter has grown from obscure oddity to an artist of genuine national prominence, all thanks to a record, Nothing Important, that’s surely the finest our region has yielded in recent memory.
It was little surprise, then, that its key moment came in the shape of The Vile Stuff, the new album’s stunning centrepiece.
Hilarious and unsettling by equal measure, its 15 minutes found Dawson stretching himself to his very limits, bellowing each shrouded lyric with a ferocity that had sweat streaming from his temples.
It was a performance of such commitment and intensity that come its end he had to pause for a couple of minutes, staggering around the stage in a bid to catch his breath.
What’s more, when he did resume it wasn’t, as common sense would dictate, with one of his scrappy guitar instrumentals, but rather Poor Old Horse, whose wildly fluctuating a cappella once more strained his voice to and beyond its natural limits.
His audience had already been treated (or as some would have it, subjected) to another boundary-pushing performance courtesy of Yorkshire drone merchants The Vibracathedral Orchestra.
Sporting a weird and wonderful assortment of instruments, the quintet’s hell-raising assault lasted the best part of an hour - something a sizable chunk of the audience decided they’d rather freeze outside than endure.
It was certainly a more divisive set than that of opener Phil Tyler, whose evocative banjo pieces were greeted with universal warmth, yet those who lasted the distance were nevertheless vocal in their appreciation.
In many ways, Dawson’s avant-folk strikes a middle-ground between those two acts, being challenging and undoubtedly of acquired taste, yet also permeated by moments of stark and deeply personal tenderness.
With lyrics ranging from comical personal experience to brutal and even religious imagery, he’s an artist whose gains have been born from sheer individualism.
It was typical, then, that his setlist declined to focus on the new LP, instead sourcing material from across his extensive catalogue.
Taken from 2011’s The Magic Bridge, Man Has Been Struck Down By Hands Unseen even went so far as to rival The Vile Stuff’s immense power, while an encore of early songs had effect of showing natural gifts, yet also the extent of his progress.
Indeed, if he can match tonight’s showing throughout the coming tour, he’ll only continue to turn heads up and down the country.