Our intrepid associate editor Stephen Lambe followed Mostly Autumn in April and May 2004 to get a feel for the band's direction and the evolution of their live show. He reviews four live performances in this article. The first two gigs covered are the club tour while the latter two are the "V" Multimedia Concerts.
Songs played on the club tour (not in order): "Return of the King," "Boundless Ocean," "Heroes Never Die," "The Last Climb," "Spirit of Autumn Past," "Evergreen," "Winter Mountain," "The Last Bright Light," "Half the Mountain," "Never the Rainbow," "Shrinking Violet," "Mother Nature," "Caught in a Fold," "Something in Between," "Pure White Light," "Simple Ways," "First Thought," "Passengers," "Answer the Question."
"V" Set One. "Passengers," "Caught in a Fold," "Something in Between," "Another Life," "First Thought," "Pure White Light," "Simple Ways," "Bitterness Burnt," "Distant Train," "Answer the Question," "Pass the Clock," "Passengers." Set Two: "The Night Sky," "Spirit of Autumn Past," "Evergreen," "The Last Climb" (not played at the Astoria), "Never the Rainbow," "Heroes Never Die," "Mother Nature." Encore: "Afterglow."
Things change. In November 2002, Mostly Autumn played in front of 30 people in a bar in Cheltenham. In May 2004, they played to 1600 people at the London Astoria. Up until recently, the growth in the bands following had been largely organic--gradually larger audiences as they played the usual circuit of UK club dates. However, in early 2004 Classic Rock Productions took the bold and expensive step of inserting a CD sampler in Classic Rock magazine. This seems to have led to a sharp spike in interest in the band, and a hugely successful club tour followed, with most venues sold out.
After a period of intense rehearsal the band had shaken things up, introducing a couple of rarely played older songs into the mix. A lovely version of "Boundless Ocean" from For All We Shared, played as a set-closer at Bilston. When "Mother Nature" was dropped, was accompanied by a remarkable, extended version of "The Last Bright Light," a track the band had thought they could never play live. This version toned down the Gregorian vocals of the original, and inserted a wonderfully extended instrumental coda.
Aside from that, some of the new songs previously dropped from the set during the 2003 Passengers concerts had been re-rehearsed and revived. "Something in Between," with a new, gentle intro, and "Pure White Light" with its intense harmonies producing spine-tingling moment, were reintroduced alongside a majestic (and much too short) "Simple Ways." Furthermore, the lovely "First Thought," sometimes considered an afterthought in discussions of the Passengers album, was played for the first time.
As for the performances, credit should go to new drummer Andrew Jennings for learning the set so quickly. Aside from that, the band seemed supremely confident, with Heather Findlay's voice continuing to develop by leaps and bounds--she seems to have put the days of struggling with pitch long behind her--and the usual impressive standard of musicianship.
These events were something of a prelude, however, to the three showcase concerts in May in London, Newcastle and Wolverhampton. The intention here was to recreate the intensity of the York Opera House concert in 2003, by featuring a special set plus a enhanced light show, lasers, projections and (it has to be said, largely superfluous) string quartet. The talented Troy Donockly again guested on Uilleann Pipes, Low Whistle and Cittern. The Astoria was the first, and most important of these events, since it was potentially the bands largest audience ever, and a show to be filmed for future release.
The club tour had done its job, and the band had sufficiently polished all the songs from Passengers to play the album in its entirety, as the first set. This was a bold idea, carried off with skill, though crowd reaction was good rather than ecstatic. Of the Passengers songs is was delightful to hear the rarely played "Bitterness Burnt" with its delightful solo violin, and also "Pass the Clock" played with Troy's uplifting pipes bolstering the impressive live arrangement.
The second set was a different affair, however, with some old favourites given the full treatment by a band in full flight. A superb "Night Sky" featured Troy on haunting low whistle and pipes, "Evergreen" has never sounded better than it did at Wolverhampton, and "Heroes Never Die" was accompanied, poignantly, by images of Bryan Josh's personal heroes, from Beethoven to Peter Gabriel to his father Robbie. "Mother Nature" closed the main set, followed by a well-chosen cover of Genesis' "Afterglow."
Of the other aspects of the concerts, we felt the visuals to be a little overdone at the Astoria, though not to the detriment of the show by any means. The use of projections onto a screen behind the stage used at York were much preferred, to the round and noisily winched screen used at the Astoria. The lasers were impressive, working better in Wolverhampton, where we thought they were astonishing, compared to the Astoria, where they were a little dwarfed by the width of the venue. At Wolverhampton, the screen could not be lowered, so projections were absent, leaving the lights and lasers to compliment the music, not compete with it, to us a much better arrangement.
There is little doubt however, minor reservations aside, that these concerts were something of a triumph, they sounded excellent, the visuals were impressive and the concerts have been very well received by both new and established fans. This is a new era for a band on the up, and though we feel a little sad to lose them to a mass audience, it is exciting to see them going from strength to strength. We await their new album, due late in the year, with great excitement.--Stephen Lambe
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