Mostly Autumn

Fibbers, York

2 May 2015

There are some things you need to know to understand how I feel right now. The first is that I've been following Mostly Autumn for the last 15 years and have seen them on stage 57 times. And the band has evolved over those years, and I love what they have evolved into, and I think Mostly Autumn as they are in 2015 are still the best live band in the world today.

But still they aren't, can't be, the same band I fell in love with 15 years ago, and they don't play all the songs I fell in love with any more. And I miss that band.

And so at about 7.30 tonight I sat in Fibbers and looked at the instruments on the stage, and looked at the Panic Room tour flyer that had been thrust into my hand at the door, and read the Panic Room tour dates, and looked again at the stage, and put two and two together and dared to dream about the band I fell in love with.

And Angela Gordon walked on the stage and played Out of the Inn, and I can't even explain how that felt, I don't think I breathed throughout the whole song. I was so happy. It was just perfect.

* * *

Well, that was the review I wrote last night. And in the morning light it's not enough, so I'll try again.

Mostly Autumn appeared to face two problems kicking off their new tour. The first is that due to commitments with her other band, their flautist/keyboard player/backing vocalist Anne-Marie Helder was absent. The second is that drummer Alex Cromarty broke his wrist a month ago and couldn't use his right hand.

So the band's original flautist/keyboard player/backing vocalist Angela Gordon filled in for Anne-Marie. The first time I've seen Angela with the band since her last gig with them in 2007.

And Alex Cromarty played the whole set with one hand.

No, I am not kidding. I didn't notice at first. It sounded like a full drum sound. Then I looked, and realised what he was doing, and I was absolutely astounded. I've never seen a performance like it. And it honestly sounded flawless. Ok, sure, in a couple of songs with big instrumental breaks I noticed the sound was a bit cymbal-heavy and it was actually the bass drum holding the beat by itself, but that's only because I know these songs like the back of my hand and pick up on any changes in the live arrangements. Somebody new to the band would surely just think they were watching the greatest drummer of modern times, and not realise they were hearing only 50% of his actual ability. He truly is astonishing.

The set opened with the first few tracks of their last concept album, Dressed in Voices, and I still say it's their strongest material for years, and packs a huge emotional punch live — and a big chunk of the emotion comes from Bryan Josh's vocals. He sings like he really means it, and I might even say it's the best he's ever sung. And also the way they split the vocals struck me as it never has previously, that while Olivia Sparnenn is belting out the arias (as only she can), Bryan is more-or-less taking the recitative, and telling you the story. I'm loving this music more and more as I hear it more, and it makes me annoyed that I didn't make the effort to see more of the shows on last year's tour.

For a while I thought they were going to play the whole album through as they did last year. But they stopped just before the song with the drum solo (I guess for obvious reasons) and mixed in some older songs.

First came Out of the Inn, as I might have mentioned. Half the band left the stage, Angela came to the front and played the flute, Chris Johnson played the acoustic guitar part, and for a while I honestly couldn't work out what I was hearing, I saw them do this dozens of times back in the day, it was the part of the set I always looked forward to, but last night it was so unexpected, something I never hoped to see again, it was almost an unreal experience for me.

Other very welcome surprises that I've really missed: Pass the Clock (Pass the Clock!), with Olivia and Angela doing the recorder duet then Angela playing the pipe and fiddle parts on flute; Candle to the Sky (Candle to the Sky! I am definitely dreaming), with Iain Jennings singing the chorus so loudly that I hear him without a microphone; Chris singing Silver Glass; Olivia singing Hollow.

Less surprising, but still welcome, were Questioning Eyes (and for an awful moment at the start there was a look on Olivia's face that made me think she wasn't going to be able to sing it, but she sang it flawlessly, obviously) and Evergreen ('snowstorms and icicles' :-) ).

Then it was back to the last few songs of Dressed in Voices, picking it up at The Last Day — and, hey, here's a thing, it's first time I've heard Angela play the Autumn Past flute riff since 2007.

The encore was Heroes Never Die, as it always has to be, and to be truthful it was a bit of a shambolic arrangement, but honestly that didn't matter at all, it conveyed all the emotion that it's supposed to, and at that moment I'd rather hear a ropey Heroes than any other band's best song.

Ok, I really hate to end a review on a negative, but I have to say this about the venue. In many respects, the new building Fibbers has moved into is better than the old one. It's a good size, it's well laid out, great sight lines to the fairly high stage, bar tucked well away from the music, a good sized stage and pretty good acoustics for a club venue. It ticks all the boxes. Except the sound bleed through from the pub next door is horrendous. I mean, it actually affected my enjoyment of the quieter songs. I don't know if it's possible for them to do anything about it, but if they can't then it's going to make me think twice about going to the venue in the future.

Dammit, now I feel bad. I can't end a review of the best gig of the last eight years on a negative point. So, um, yes, the stage lights were beautiful. Really beautiful. Nearly as beautiful as the band.

Mostly Autumn on home turf with a crowd 100% behind them, playing songs like this. It's not just the best concert I've ever seen, it's the best thing I've ever thinged ever. Really.

You probably need to be me to understand.

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