Mostly Autumn

The Crescent, York

7 June 2019

They open with Sight of Day, a song from only two years ago that already feels like an old favourite. The whole set is drawn almost entirely from that album and the new one, with only a few token nods to the earlier albums, and it's pretty remarkable that a band now more than 20 years old can play so much brand new material and have it received just as rapturously as the "classics". But Mostly Autumn is, and has been for the last 20 years, the best live band in the world, and they can make you fall in love with anything they do on stage. By the sheer quality of the musicianship, I mean, just perfect top-class polished virtuosity from every member, but also because they put so much heart and emotion in everything they do. Sight of Day is a 15-minute song of many parts, and at the end you feel totally drained, tearful, uplifted ... and they've only just started. They run through some older songs and finish the first half with Mother Nature, another long song that ... well, just repeat everything I already said above.

The Crescent is a good venue for Mostly Autumn, with the crowd comfortably filling it. It's a standing venue, and tonight that's what is needed. Some bands I have to stand for, some I prefer to sit and just concentrate on listening, often I would put Mostly Autumn in the latter category, but tonight, in front of a devoted home-town crowd, the set is so energetic that it demands you're on your feet despite the sweltering heat. There is almost no chat from Bryan or Olivia between songs, but there doesn't need to be. We all know what the songs are, we know what, or who, they're written for, and we clap and sing along to everything.

There are some staging issues. The band is cramped (though I've seen them on smaller stages), they need a fan to spread the smoke (Angela and Chris vanish, while the rest of the stage is clear), Angela has to contort her way out of her corner for a flute solo (oh, before I forget: best ever flute solo in The Last Climb), and they could do with some more front spotlights. But it doesn't matter, the sound is perfect and the music is perfect.

In the first half, I think Olivia is singing in a surprisingly low register (which I love to hear, but she doesn't use often). So we get things like Simple Ways with Angela singing the high harmony (just like it always used to be) and the interesting effect of Olivia singing low harmony to Chris on Silver Glass.

Then you find she's been saving herself for the second half, which includes things like Tomorrow Dies with a soaring performance of extraordinary power.

All the White Rainbow material is saved for the second half. It opens with Viking Funeral, with a thunderous keyboard sound, and Angela playing the uillean pipes part on high whistle. The instrumental section seems to go on forever, then Bryan comes in singing with so much emotion in his voice it's almost painful. It's rare for a brand new song to have this kind of immediate emotional connection. But that's what this band is like.

Burn follows, with a vocal performance from Olivia that takes the roof off (only matched by the roar of the crowd after it). A relief from the intensity comes from Changing Lives, with its infectious melodic hooks and Chris proving again what an exceptional songwriter he is, and everyone joining in the woaaaaa-oh-oh-ohhhh part.

And they end the set with White Rainbow, a 20-minute epic that sounds like six other songs stitched together. I have been unconvinced by it on record, but it comes alive here, the disparate parts moving you through so many emotions. Bryan sounds so angry on the opening vocal, then Olivia soars over it like... like she does. You can keep all your symphonic metal singers, Olivia does this better than anyone. Then there's the monstrous instrumental section, possibly the heaviest music Mostly Autumn have ever written, all distorted keyboards, thunderous drums, and heavy metal recorders. How do they keep up this level of playing over such a long and complex song, and do it so flawlessly? Best live band in the world, that's how. And all the parts fit together seamlessly, making a single coherent song. When it does reach the final section, with acoustic guitar and simple rhythms, the result is so uplifting and cathartic. The whole band is smiling (though possibly just with relief at having got through it).

There is very little that could top that. They do it by encoring with Heroes Never Die and the completely joyous Forever and Beyond, which is rapidly becoming my favourite live Mostly Autumn song.

When they line up for the final bow, it seems that they don't want to leave the stage and they stand there with arms linked just smiling for ages while Liam's solo album plays over the PA.

I leave physically and emotionally drained and sing Forever and Beyond all the way home.

Which is exactly how it should be. After the best concert I have ever seen.