Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Long Goodbye

When the Brooklyn-based band Augustines announced recently that they were splitting up after six years together, my reaction was one of regret and gratitude. Regret that a band who have produced three great albums of poignant and impassioned rock music would no longer be around, but gratitude for the fact that I had a ticket for the sold-out first date of their farewell British tour in Brighton on Sunday night.

Already renowned for their intense live performances, in these circumstances, it was always going to be an emotional evening. At the start, lead singer and guitarist Billy McCarthy seems in danger of being overwhelmed by the occasion as his powerful voice hits the soulful and fitting peaks of The Avenue - "I wanna try somewhere new/ Where open land meets the sky/ And I can feel new" - but he is soon into his genial stride between songs. We are treated to wisecracks about bacon sandwiches and the band opening a bakery - "crumpets and trumpets" - and multiple thanks for the audience's support over the years.

Midway through the set McCarthy and multi-instrumentalist lynchpin Eric Sanderson are joined onstage by their friend Tom Zovich from their previous band, Pela. Drummer Rob Allen gives way to Zovich and they rattle through Waiting on the Stairs and Trouble With River Cities, songs from the old days. The reunion is clearly an affecting moment.

The presence of a trumpeter adds an extra dimension to the trio's sound in the same way that brass complements the live sound of The National and British Sea Power. But it is the huge soundscapes they create that make me think that Augustines deserve to be the biggest stadium band in the world. Not that I would wish that on them, as it's a largely perjorative term in my book; much better to see this band in a small, sweaty venue like Concorde 2.

There are so many anthems in the band's repetoire that there is little breathing space from the relentless passionate pace: Are We Alive? and When Things Fall Apart from the most recent album, Philadelphia and Chapel Song from their debut as We Are Augustines, Rise Ye Sunken Ships. But it is 2014's eponymous album that provides the majority of the arms-aloft singalongs: Now You Are Free, Nothing To Lose But Your Head and Walkabout have the audience bellowing in unison. It is a long goodbye as audience and band seem reluctant to be parted but the set eventually concludes - after an incredible two and a half hours - with the trio of Weary Eyes, Landmine and Cruel City. Even then, the audience stay in place singing the final song after the band have left the stage. They will be missed.

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