The Crescent, York
1 July 2023I saw Mostly Autumn twice last year, and didn't write reviews for them. I wasn't going to write this one either. I've seen them more than 70 times in concert, and I'm not sure what there is left to say. For over 20 years they've been the consistently best live band in the world. Tonight they show that they still are. I'm right at the front, so the sound mix is inevitably uneven (drums tend to dominate everything when you're that close to them), and at the start I think Olivia's vocal is mixed too low, and I can't hear Chris's acoustic guitar at all. But by the end of the first song it's sorted (or perhaps my ears have just adjusted themselves), and the night is flawless from then on.
The first couple of songs aren't really favourites; I've honestly wished for In for the Bite to be dropped from the set in recent years. But even with a less-favourite song, and a dodgy sound mix, I'm instantly caught up in the mood of the gig. The band are playing at the top of their game, carrying off the ridiculously fast and complex music and making it look like it's not even an effort. They just deliver the music with no theatrics, no pretension, just smiles all round and complete committment to what they do.
They are masters at pacing the set, too. There are so many strings to their music, so many moods and styles emcompassed in their songs, and so many instrumental and vocal possibilites between them, that they seem to be constantly reinventing themselves throughout the evening. After the breathless, energetic, symphonic metal of the first pair of songs, most of the band leave the stage and we get a lengthy flute/piano duet. Honestly, I could listen to an entire gig of Angela and Iain playing like this. But it doesn't last: the rest of the band returns, the energy picks up, and it leads into the magnificent Western Skies with a stunning vocal delivery from Olivia.
Olivia and Bryan share most the vocals, but there's room for the others too. Chris gets three songs, and Angela unexpectedly duets with him on his beautiful Gaze, and she also gets a duet with Olivia on Heart Body and Soul. When Bryan introduces The Last Climb, she's at the front again and I think she's going to sing that too—but no, Bryan sings it, which I think is right for the song, and she's just there to play the most beautiful extended flute solo.
Angela Gordon's flute is the main reason I fell in love wth Mostly Autumn 20-odd years ago. This is always the highlight of the set for me.
The first half (and I'm not doing this in order, I'm just talking about the highlights as I think of them) ends with Mother Nature, possibly my favourite Mostly Autumn song. And the magical thing about being in a Mostly Autumn crowd is that in the middle of a complex, multi-part, 15-minute song, 400 people know the precise beat to start clapping on. This audience is almost as amazing as the band.
There has been very little from the latest album Graveyard Star, compared with last year's gigs. But that also feels right. Graveyard Star was written in extraordinary circumstances and had a very specific mood because of that, and it's a mood that we don't need any more. But it's fitting that we get Back in these Arms, from it, because, as Bryan tries to explain in his introduction, we're past all that, and that's what this song is about, and it's all, I don't know, I can't express what it means. But Bryan's passionate delivery expresses it all. It's a miraculous song from a miraculous band.
And we cry so hard cause it feels so good
By now I think we've had around two hours of music, with time for one more song, so the ony thing a band like this can do is play a 20-minute epic, White Rainbow, which encompasses everything the modern Mostly Autumn is about: moving from slow moody movements to monstrous metal riffing, thundering power, an incongruous but perfectly fitting recorder duet from Olivia and Angela played over stomping rhythms, and finally just purely joyful, uplifiting, cathartic melody.
There's only time for one encore, so obviously it's going to be Heroes Never Die. It's always going to be Heroes Never Die, the song that started this band off all those years ago when Bryan wrote it about his late father, and a song which I'm sure means something personal to every single member in the audience. It's always a perfect end to a Mostly Autumn concert, and it's a song that almost doesn't end tonight, as Bryan, Andy, Chris and Angela line up at the front of the stage and play the extended intrumental outro, and extend it, and extend it, and they're all looking at Bryan and wondering if he's ever going to stop playing, and we're all looking at him and hoping he won't, and then that's it, it's over except for the bows. And the memories.
I wasn't going to write a review, because I didn't think I had anything left to say after 70 concerts. But this band has so much still to say, and I'm going to keep going and keep writing for as long as they keep going.
Best live band in the world today.