Mostly Autumn

Mean Fiddler, London

30 June 2001

When the announcer describes Mostly Autumn as the best rock band for 20 years, he's absolutely right. And though I've suspected this for a while now, tonight's concert thoroughly convinced me.

I've seen Mostly Autumn a number of times, but this was the first time I've seen the full band in a "real" concert venue; with a stage bigger than a postage stamp, a good sound system (occasional distortion on the voices when they got too loud, but otherwise an excellent sound mix), and a crowd that's there to see the band rather than just drink beer.

There were a lot of video cameras in use, so I imagine the finished DVD is going to look pretty impressive. The cameras were never obtrusive, however. The only time the filming took over the show was at the end when they had to repeat the opening song, Porcupine Rain - the reason being that somebody in the crowd had used flash photography during the song and it apparently interfered with the filming. But it meant we got it again as an extra encore, and it sounded good both times so nobody minded.

With room to pose, costumes, lights, smoke machines, and an enthusiastic audience, Mostly Autumn suddenly look like a real rock band. It feels like this scale of concert is a new thing for them (though I'm sure it's not really). They haven't quite sorted out who belongs in what part of the (relatively huge) stage, and there are a number of collisions as they move about. Contact with the audience is minimal and hesitant; they don't introduce themselves (Angela is the only one mentioned by name, at the end of Which Wood?), and several songs aren't introduced either. (I don't believe everybody there knew every song!).

But all of that is incidental. The only thing that really matters was that this is the best set I have ever seen them perform. The selection of songs was almost perfect and the performances were flawless. They played two hours of music, with a short break in the middle of the set (to allow for costume changes - I kid you not) and included a mixture of songs from all three albums, and there's not a bad song in the whole set.

Mostly Autumn play 19 different instruments between them. I haven't seen that many instruments on stage since I last saw a symphony orchestra. And with the addition of three backing singers, there are eight different voices sharing the harmonies. The result is a perfect reproduction of their complex music. But I don't mean a note-by-note sterile copying of the CD, because the live arrangements are much more powerful, much rockier. For want of a better word, much "heavier". There is a power and a dynamic that makes you stand up and say - wait a minute, this band really rocks! You clap along and dance to the songs. You can't help it. The energy just pours out of them. I don't know if it's the atmosphere of the venue, or if the band were really playing at a different level, but it was so different to the way they play in a pub, it's, help, words are failing me. Stunning.

But it's not all thunder and no subtlety. The set mixes the full range of their songs, from the slow Evergreen to the manic Dark Before the Dawn, from the acoustic instrumentals to the crashing rock crescendos, taking in breathtaking guitar solos, choral vocals, and, well, and just everything along the way. Did I say yet how good this band is in concert?

Highlights of the night... I don't know what to pick. Heroes Never Die is still my favourite song, and they use it to close the first half of the set before their break. Shrinking Violet is also my favourite song (yes I can have two favourites if I want to) and every single tiny part of it is perfect. Helms Deep is incredible. I never noticed before, but the middle section is a traditional folk tune (March the Heroes Home) (has it always been or did she change it?). Smoke!!! I love smoke machines. All concerts should have smoke machines. And pretty lights. And if I'm allowed to have smoke effects as a highlight, I'm going to have Heather's butterfly costume as one too. What else? I like how they re-arrange the early songs to feature flute instead of violin. Ignore people who say they like violins, flutes are much more interesting in this kind of music. Never the Rainbow. Mother Nature. Everything. Can I just say that the whole night was a highlight, I loved it all, and there wasn't a bad bit anywhere? Ok. Then that's how it was. The best concert I have ever seen.