O2 Academy, Islington
27 June 2015
It's years since I've travelled to London to see Mostly Autumn, and years since I've put myself front and (slightly right of) centre at a Mostly Autumn gig. But this year, it felt right. So here I am, queueing before the unusually early 6pm doors and then rushing to claim my old accustomed position, where I will stand for an hour and wait for the band.
It's a bit of a nervous hour, because I keep turning around to scan the hall behind me, and thinking, "There's not a very big crowd."
In fact, the room does fill up closer to stage time, so the eventual crowd size is large enough to not be embarrasing, though it's still far from packed. A couple of theories are put forward for this. One is that we're clashing with Glastonbury (but I can't see that there's much crossover between fans of musicians like Mostly Autumn and fans of, apparently, a man shouting over a pre-recorded backing track); another is that we're clashing with Gay Pride (and, ok, maybe a bigger crossover there). But what it does mean is that I'm sure the crowd is 100% hardcore fans, they're all there for the music, nobody talks during the quiet bits, and nobody's running to the bar every two minutes (well, maybe they are, but they're doing it quietly so I don't notice). In short, best rock crowd I've been in for quite a while,
As for the venue, it's my first time in the O2 Academy at Islington, and my first impression is that ... it's an O2 Academy. You all know what that means.
But the sound is great (bearing in mind I'm specifically positioned in a place that's not going to have the best sound mix), the stage is large enough, and there are plenty of lights. I can see all the band! There are enough follow spots, and the man on them is clued-up enough to put them on the right people at the right time (excellent job, lighting guy). As well as the spots, the general stage effect lighting is beautiful, and probably looks even better from further back. And there are back projections to complement the music in the first set which are subtle but very atmospheric and effective. And two geysers of coloured smoke blasting up from the front of Alex Cromarty's drum riser, which Alex seem to find hilarious, and to be honest are borderline cool/hilarious, but at the moment I'm going with "cool". Cool in a Spinal Tap sort of way, which all true rock fans will realise is very cool indeed.
Ah, should I talk about the music?
No, I'm going to talk about Alex Cromarty, playing with two hands again (last time I saw him, he played one handed with a broken wrist) but with two fingers taped up (is the man completely injury prone? If he has a black eye next time I see him, I'll be convinced he's in Fight Club (shhhh, don't talk about that)). Help, lost my sentence ... ok, Alex Cromarty, a phenomenal drummer, no matter how many hands he's using, who gives the songs power without losing one bit of subtlety. His presence in the band is one big contributing factor to Mostly Autumn's rennaissance, to my mind.
The other contributing factor is Dressed in Voices. Mostly Autumn's best album in years, and the more I hear it live (three times now) the more I think maybe their best yet. It's got everything that's a defining element of a Mostly Autumn album: blended male/female vocals, acoustic bits, flute at appropriate places, and yet it doesn't feel like a "clichéd" or by-the-numbers Mostly Autumn album, it feels new and fresh. And every live performance feels new and fresh too, with the whole band pouring so much intensity into the music, the whole album played straight through tonight with no chatter and barely time to take applause, you can't help being caught up in the mood and the atmosphere and the emotion of the thing. Bryan, singing better than I've ever heard him, puts as much emotion into his voice (not to mention his lyric writing) as he always puts into his guitar solos and Home reduces me to tears. It's doing it again now when I'm remembering it, which is a bit embarassing beacuse I'm on a train. And actually that's not even the highest point of the set. And I shouldn't single out any one song or person, because the whole thing is perfect, greater than the sum of its parts. But: Skin on Skin. Alex Cromarty. Holy moley.
There's a 20 minute interval to compose ourselves after the Dressed in Voices set, then the band comes back for a 90-minute (including encores) "greatest hits" set. Not massively different from the set I saw a couple of months ago, but that's ok, it was perfect then and it's still perfect now. It starts with Angela (flute) and Chris (acoustic guitar) alone at the front of the stage playing Out of the Inn, and that alone was ... well, come on, everybody reading this knows why I'm in London.
If I had to make a perfect Mostly Autumn set list, it would start with Out of the Inn showing how the band moves from acoustic jigs to full-on rock intensity, then have the whole of the 15-minute, multi-part, folk-prog complexity of Pass The Clock with Angela playing four different instruments (not counting backing vocals) and coming to the front for a flute solo, then Olivia singing Hollow with beautiful jazz-like keyboards from Iain Jennings, then Chris Johnson singing Silver Glass (which he wrote for the Heart Full of Sky album and stands alone as sounding nothing like any other Mostly Autumn song and yet sounding like a perfect Mostly Autumn song), Bryan singing Nowhere to Hide from the first album, and what else oh yes Candle to the Sky (which someone once described as all of Dark Side of the Moon compressed into 10 minutes) with all five of the band's singers (and I'm including Iain because I heard him even though he didn't have a microphone) on the chorus. Something from every (old) album. And ... what's it called ... damn, Silhouettes of Ghosts or something ... I'm so annoyed, it's on the bonus disc that came with Dressed in Voices and I clearly don't play that disc often enough but I should because this song reminded me how good it is.
Then I would end it with the mandatory Evergreen to show how the band does massive intrumental climaxes, and put the always intensely emotional pairing of Questioning Eyes and Heroes never Die in the encore.
And I would have it all played by seven consummate performers, 100% into the music, with a perfect stage chemistry, looking just so damned happy to be playing for us, and looking like they all loved this music as much as we do.
That would be the best concert I have ever seen.
Oh, look. It was.