Mostly Autumn

Astoria, London

8 May 2004

How can I properly describe the best concert I've ever seen?

The band seemed perfectly at home on the bigger stage, without losing any of the closeness to the audience they've spent the last few years cultivating. With room to move and breathe (and dance!), the spectacle becomes more visually interesting than it is in their usual postage-stamp venues. That's without counting their much-hyped visual effects. Because, to be honest, all the lights and lasers may have been needed to create the promotional buzz but they were secondary to the seven people on stage and at the end of the day weren't all that important. They could have left them at home and I would still be raving about how good this show was.

The energy and emotion pouring off the stage was immense, and the buzz in the crowd around me echoed it — this wasn't a casual pub crowd checking out the band, this was a crowd of die-hard fans who clapped and sang along with every song. A great atmosphere and, although I thought seated venues suited this band better, the all-standing venue seemed to help the atmosphere tonight.

And did I mention the place was packed?

Set list: very unusual. The first half of the set was Passengers. All of it, though not in order (starting with the suitably rocky Caught in a Fold and ending with the intense, uplifting Passengers) An interesting approach — not one I would want to see every tour, but it worked well tonight.

I'm not going to give a song-by-song account but there wasn't a bad one in the bunch and most were exceptional — lifted far above the album arrangements. And of course the format meant we got several songs I've never heard before.

Some words about individual band members, all "dressed up" for the occasion. They make the most of space on the stage by moving all over it, taking turns to come forwards to play for the audience, and closely interacting and feeding off each other's performances. Just like a real rock band! They all seem excited and happy (and even, dare I say it, proud) to play for us, and that's the most important element of any gig, really.

Andrew Jennings impressed me immensely. In just a few weeks, he's gone from being (in my eyes) "pretty good" to being a virtuoso drummer. I love the syncopated drum pattern he adds to (for example) Mother Nature — it suddenly brings the drums to the front and makes them another instrument in the song instead of "just" providing the rhythm. Stunning. And while I miss the powerful crescendos that Jonathan Blackmore brought to songs, I'm more than happy with the new guy's approach.

Heather sings beautifully throughout, as good as I've ever heard her, but I don't want to ignore the vocal contributions of Angela Goldthorpe, who gets better (or at least more noticeable) with each new gig. As long as she continues to sing like this, I'll forgive them for never playing Which Wood? any more. The closing section of Simple Ways where they wail in harmony... well, just, "wow".

Back to the set. A ten minute break then they come back for the second set, opening it with The Night Sky. I don't think I've heard it since the Story So Far gig (downstairs at this very venue three years ago) so it was a nice surprise. After this it was the predictable classics — predictable in a good way, of course. I'm sure everybody could name at least one "essential" song they missed but I think it was worth the sacrifice for the novelty of hearing everything from Passengers for the first time.

Only the encore was a surprise — a new song? It's good... but the arrangement seemed a bit chaotic. Is that because it hasn't "worn in" yet? I'll refrain from saying more until I hear it again next week (?).

You'll notice I've said nothing about the guest musicians. That's because my main thought was... why are they there? Oh, they were good, no doubt about that. Troy Donockley is a marvellous musician and I adore the sound of the lowland pipes. And the string quartet did add a new layer to the few songs they appear on — but that's the key: "few". None of the guests feature on more than three or four of the 20 songs played tonight. It seems a lot of effort to bring along all those guests then under-use them. At the York show last year, the set seemed much more "built around" Donockley, the strings, and the choir. Here, it seemed to be more of a case of squeezing the guests into an already-decided set that didn't really need them. Don't get me wrong — there was nothing bad about the inclusion of the extra musicians. It just seemed like wasting an opportunity to do so much more.

And one final quibble before I finish: yes, the lights were beautiful and lasers shooting through the crowd are a great effect, but some of the laser effects seemed poorly thought out and didn't quite gel. It felt like seeing laser "clip art" — pre-packaged embellishments added as an afterthought "because we can". Probably should have resisted the temptation to use them.

But none of that detracts one tiny bit from the quality of the music and the performances. It truly was the best concert I have ever seen.

During Heroes I glanced up through a mist of tears to see (to my surprise) a picture of Deep Purple staring back at me on the overhead projection. Very appropriate, as they are my greatest musical "heroes" and have provided me with many of my happiest concert memories over the years. I don't think anything will ever stop me naming Deep Purple as the greatest rock band of all time. But recently...


Mostly Autumn.

Do you know how good they are?

Next year: Hammersmith Odeon. You read it here first ;-)