Mostly Autumn

The Sage, Gateshead

7 Septemer 2012


I woke up at three o'clock this morning and couldn't get back to sleep again because my brain was going "da-na da-na da-na devil came up da-na da-na da-na orchestra..." (I am not very good with lyrics at 3am).

So, looks like the new songs have left an impression...

I'll be up front about this: I don't actually rate the new CD very highly. It's got a lot of great moments, but those moment don't really come together in great songs. But Mostly Autumn never disappoint as a live band, and often hearing a song live completely changes your impression of it, so I was looking forward to last night's gig regardless.

Well, the new songs still don't completely gell. But by God they're played well, with all the passion and energy you would expect from the band. The set leaned (predictably) on the new songs, and I wasn't disappointed for a moment.

The band comes on to an intro tape of — I think it's Montagues and Capulets, isn't it? Something from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, anyway. Their timing seems slightly off, because they first stand around for ages while the tape plays on, then stand around in silence while Iain cues the percussion samples for Distant Train. But once they kick into the music everything clicks into place with perfect precision and there's not a bad moment for the next two and a quarter hours. Distant Train finishes and Olivia makes her entrance (wearing the best coat I have ever seen) for Unquiet Tears, and sings its hushed opening melody beautifully.

Drops of the Sun really rocks, driven along by Gavin's thundering drums. I have no idea what it's on about though. Five pound notes? I mean, seriously... what?

(I think I'm not doing the set in order, but tough, I'm doing the bits as I remember them.)

The Devil and the Orchestra has a great groove in the guitar riff and, as I've mentioned, tends to lodge solidly in your brain.

On the down side, King of the Valley is the only song that doesn't really work... I don't hate it, but it's very ordinary compared with the rest of the set. Tennyson Mansion is nicely atmospheric but again not really a highlight for me, although it does provide some shade in the very powerful rock-oriented set.

Apart from the new songs, we get the predicatable can't-be-dropped Evergreen and Heroes (not that I'm complaining) and an interesting selection of other oldies. Never the Rainbow is back in the set for the first time in ages. In fact, the whole set (new and old) is quite heavily biased towards Jennings songs (not that I'm complaining).

Did I finish my list of highlights? No...

Ice (Mr Jennings again, I think?) is epic, beautifully emotional vocals from Bryan and Olivia as the music passes through its variety of moods. The climax unexpectedly moves me to tears. Just stunning.

Anne-Marie plays a very extended flute solo in The Last Climb. Most of the band actually nip off stage and leave her to it. (Not that I'm complaining. You can never have too much flute.)

Something I picked up on in this arrangement of The Last Bright Light is how essential Liam's acoustic guitar is. Bryan is on fire on lead and vocals, but it's Liam who pins the song together and drives it forward.

Did I mention Andy Smith? I don't think I mention Andy enough. He broke a string in Heroes Never Die, and carried on playing with no noticable change—how does that work? Is he recalculating chord fingerings on the fly? I don't know, but I'm very impressed.

Have I missed any other highlights? Yes, Olivia taking her boots off is a highlight (shut up, it is) and so is the shambolic group bow at the end—highlights, because it humanises the group, makes me laugh, makes me love the band even more. And it's all part of why this—

Wait, I forgot the encore! With a vast catalogue of well-loved classics to draw upon, the band plays an encore of The Last Train seguing into Tonight, two songs from the limited-edition version of their new album! I think that shows a lot of faith in the material, as well as faith in the audience... faith rewarded, as the audience loves it, naturally. Who needs Mother Nature, anyway, when Olivia is singing like this? I am in awe, as always.

But the true test of a gig is that moment when I step out into the fresh air, humming the best bits, and examine my feelings at that moment... do I feel like I have just been to the best gig ever?

Hell yes.

Sorry if this is even less coherent than usual, I've been up since 3am.

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