Photo: Andy Houghton

Every once in a while, a concert comes along where the performance, the venue and the audience all come together to create something special. That can certainly be said of Those Pretty Wrongs, comprising Jody Stephens and Luther Russell, whose gig at The Flying Circus in Newark, UK, delivered an evening of exceptional music.
Memphis-based Stephens was the drummer for cult rock band Big Star, once described by Rolling Stone as “one of the most mythic and influential cult acts in all of rock and roll” (and cited as an influence by bands ranging from R.E.M. to Primal Scream). LA-based Russell was lead singer/songwriter of The Freewheelers before becoming a solo artist and producer.
This is the band’s second tour of the UK, and their first since the release of their sophomore album Zed for Zulu in September 2019. At The Flying Circus the band were well-supported by Jack Brett and James Manners, who delivered a mix of original and cover material, before Stephens and Russell took the stage in front of a large and appreciative audience.
Opening with ‘Tonight, tonight, tonight’, the heritage of Big Star soon became apparent, with Stephens’ soulful lyrics perfectly complemented by Russell’s skilful expressiveness on acoustic guitar. The tempo picks up a notch with ‘Ain’t Nobody But Me’, with its decidedly Beatles-like sound. With ‘Time To Fly’ you can see why R.E.M. found the band to be an inspiration. With ‘Hurricane Of Love’, Stephens delivers some of the most hauntingly beautiful lyrics of the evening.
Their latest single ‘You And Me’ follows, and then the deeply melancholy ‘Life Below Zero’. The mood lifts with ‘Undertow’, described (accurately) by Stephens as a “circus stomper”, which segues perfectly into the upbeat optimism of ‘It’s About Love’. For an encore, the band played ‘Lucky Guy’ from their first album, and original Big Star tracks ‘For You’ and ‘Thirteen’.
The seeming simplicity of their music belies the intelligence and heartfelt emotion of the lyrics and the sheer musicianship on display. These are two musicians with decades of experience doing something they love, and it shows. Above all, in these often difficult and troubling times, they remind you that there is still reason for happiness and optimism.
The album Zed for Zulu is available now via Burger Records. Further information about Those Pretty Wrongs can be found on their official website
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