Dakota Suite – Seven Arts, Chapel Allerton, Leeds, 13th October 2012

Dakota Suite ~ 6

Chris Hooson is Dakota Suite. Other men have come and gone throughout the fourteen year recording odyssey of this musical collaborative, just as they are to come and go from the Seven Arts’ stage during this evening’s performance.  But Chris Hooson has remained, and does remain throughout. He is Dakota Suite as much as the band bearing that name is him. His is their beating heart and troubled soul and tonight will be his farewell to Leeds. He says that he that he will never again play this city, the city in which he now lives. His reasons for this decision remain unclear but he is a man of such great conviction and of even greater extremes you would do well not to question the veracity of what he says. Tonight therefore affords him one last opportunity to perform the music of Dakota Suite in Leeds and he has chosen to do so in front of an audience which comprises primarily of his immediate family and close friends. For those not familiar with Dakota Suite, their musical canvas is predominantly bleak and invariably introspective; it is also forever deeply personal, emotive and emotional and one upon which Chris Hooson’s human condition and past failings is painted in bold brushstrokes. To recreate these often turbulent thoughts and feelings is clearly an incredibly difficult process for Hooson so for him to do so in such an intimate yet public manner is puzzling in the extreme and it is upon this knife-edge that you are left to approach the evening.

For one hour Chris Hooson charts a journey across Dakota Suite’s discography from their 1998 debut album “Songs for a Barbed Wire Fence” (here represented by the haunting Wintersong) to the most recent release “The Other Side Of Her Inexhaustible Heart”, a neo-classical collaboration with French pianist Quentin Sirjacq who not only provides this evening’s most estimable support but also joins the various other musicians at several points during the main performance. This may well be Dakota Suite’s journey, but it is also indisputably that of Chris Hooson too. And it is a troubled road he continues to travel. As early as the opening Never Much To Say the anguish is etched deep into his face as he is returned in his mind to some tormented place, the mournful croon of his voice already starting to crack and waiver.  The ensuing The Things We Carry continues in a similar vein of desolation and helplessness, lightened only by the tenderness of David Buxton’s delicately understated lead guitar. That Buxton has chosen to camouflage himself deep under his baseball cap and behind the piano and a carefully placed shoulder bag merely adds to the music’s overwhelming sense of dislocation and alienation.  By the time that the trio of piano, cello and guitar convene for four parts of “The Other Side Of Her Inexhaustible Heart”, Hooson is gently rocking back and forth in his chair, his facial features contorted with emotional pain, the visible discomfort of which is at stark odds to the tranquil beauty of the music.
Dakota Suite ~ 7

Before the journey’s end Hooson has strapped on an electric guitar and within the splintered squall of a song that wouldn’t have been entirely out of place on Sparklehorse’s Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot he convulsed and finally exhaled what could only be described as a truly primal scream. Whether this moment afforded him catharsis is almost impossible to tell. What is easier to say is that watching Dakota Suite, or more accurately Chris Hooson perform is not for the emotionally faint of heart, and for all of its exquisite moments of musical brilliance his decision not to repeat this experience in Leeds may ultimately be viewed by both him and his local audience alike as something of a relief.

  1. This is the best review I have read in some time. Having been there on the night and subjected to what is essentially a one man band, it is no wonder it ‘is over’ and that so many have come and gone over the years, from this disjointed ‘band’. I use the term lightly, but a band is usually a group of artists; this is one man, with a deeply disturbing mindset and who is on a one man mission to tell ys something, but I wasn’t sure what? The droning vocals amid the downbeat percussive only left me wanting it to end. The fact that he now only plays to people who have no choice but to be polite (friends and family), is testament to the weak nature of Dakota Suite. Maybe it should be renamed Dakota One? Wasn’t impressed and glad he has a day job to keep the meals on the table for his family, whom he clearly needs to keep himself needed and wanted. He is clearly loved, as was assessed by the small turnout and we felt he had something to offer but that, as with most storytellers, the listener requires a good ending. Maybe write something positive with a bright key? Let the listener know there is something more? More than just you inverted wailing… I think Leeds is a happier place now Dakota Suite have decided not to play to such a cultured, intelligent city.

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